| AUSTIN, Texas, April 10
AUSTIN, Texas, April 10 Barack Obama wrapped
himself on Thursday in the civil rights legacy of Lyndon B.
Johnson, the 1960s president who helped clear the way for an
African-American to one day become U.S. president.
Obama was joined by three former presidents this week in
commemorating the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964, the landmark legislation that tested
Johnson's vaunted negotiating skills and took a step toward
ending America's segregationist past.
Speaking to a crowd at the Lyndon Baines Johnson
Presidential Library, Obama lauded the 36th U.S. president's
civil rights push as "one giant man's remarkable efforts to make
real the promise of our founding: 'We hold these truths to be
self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"
Obama, who has so far spent much of his second term as
president tussling with Republican opponents, said Johnson's
"Great Society" programs aimed at providing a social safety net
for low-income Americans are as vital as ever and that
politicians who want to dismantle them are cynical.
"I reject such cynicism because I have lived out the promise
of LBJ's efforts," he said.
Johnson opened doors of opportunity for people like him to
advance in the United States, Obama said.
"They swung open for you and they swung open for me, and
that's why I'm standing here today," he said, adding: "That
means we've got a debt to pay."
Obama's own civil rights legacy is seen in his efforts to
try to end discriminatory practices against gays and lesbians
and persuading Congress to pass immigration reform.
African-American groups would like him to do more to create jobs
for the black community.
His audience included Johnson's daughter Lynda, some
veterans of the Johnson administration and civil rights leaders,
such as Representative John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who as a
young man was beaten by Alabama state troopers, his skull
fractured, during the "Bloody Sunday" march in March 1965.
Lewis said it was fitting that Obama spoke.
"President Barack Obama was born into a dangerous and
difficult time in American history, a time when people were
arrested and taken to jail just for sitting beside each other on
a bus," he told the crowd.
Obama also knows there is much more work to do "redeem the
soul of America," said Lewis.
The group was treated to protest songs from the 1960s and
videos of Johnson signing the law that outlawed discrimination
based on race. In one, he is seen repeating the civil rights
anthem of the time, "We shall overcome."
Gospel singer Mavis Staples later led the crowd to rise to
its feet and sing "We Shall Overcome," swaying to the music.
Former presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W.
Bush were all participants at the summit, appearing at different
times, but the central speaker of the week of ceremonies was
The 44th president has in recent months intensified his
focus on improving the plight of black Americans. His "My
Brothers Keeper" initiative is aimed at help at-risk young
people to get the skills needed to find a job.
However, Obama's policy of deporting undocumented immigrants
drew a protest outside the library where a half dozen people
spent the night chained to a statue on the University of Texas
One of those chained was Patrick Fierro, 36, of Austin, who
saw his father deported to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, six years ago
and said he and his family have struggled with grief ever since.
"Every day I suffer and I have pain every day when I wake
up. I miss my dad and can't see him," Fierro said, as hundreds
more protesters chanted and marched before Obama's speech.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Roberta Rampton in
Washington; editing by G Crosse)