A multi-year initiative to highlight current civil rights issues by remembering the civil rights legislation of the past debuts Wednesday on behalf of the LBJ School of Public Affairs.
The initiative, known as “50 for 50,” will be presented in a series of 50 events to commemorate the 50 years that have passed since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed several key pieces of civil rights legislation, such as the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
LBJ School dean Robert Hutchings said he hopes the events — including a Civil Rights Summit from April 8-10 that will feature keynote speeches on campus by presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton — will ignite action among the students that can influence future legislation.
“It’s a catalyst for getting those people of [the college-aged] generation to start thinking about public service,” Hutchings said. “Our commemoration of these events doesn’t mean we have a political agenda. It’s a time for deliberating these [civil rights issues].”
The series of events is a celebration of civil rights triumphs of the past but, more importantly, will focus on the issues that are pressing today, according to Mark Updegrove, director of the LBJ Presidential Library. Updegrove said he thinks there is still room for improvement in civil rights issues.
“We always have to pay attention to issues like education and immigration and ensure that racism or discrimination of any kind does not hold us back,” Updegrove said. “While we’ve made progress in these areas, I think we always must remain vigilant and ensure that we live up to the American promise.”
Mohnish Gandhi, finance and Plan II senior, said he thinks the initiative should focus on the most contentious civil rights issues.
“I hope the series tackles the topics that are more controversial as opposed to more conservative in nature,” Gandhi said. “I think that will create more of an impact on campus because students are more attracted to controversial issues that have more time in the spotlight.”
Hutchings said he hopes the events will be dramatic enough to call attention to the approaching anniversaries of other civil rights legislative acts.
“If you look at LBJ, whether you agree or disagree with his policy, he was a president who knew how to get things done,” Hutchings said. “We want to pass on this spirit to the next generation.”