Anne Wheeler

Along with bringing four U.S. presidents to the University, the Civil Rights Summit also brought an increase in donations to the LBJ Foundation, according to LBJ Library spokeswoman Anne Wheeler.

The LBJ Foundation is a nonprofit that supports the library and the University’s LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Wheeler said legacy memberships of the library also increased as a result of the Summit, as well as donation funds. According to Wheeler, between Feb. 1 and the beginning of the summit on April 8, memberships grew from 26 to 62. By donating $1,000 to the foundation to become a legacy member, members were able to receive two tickets to the speeches of former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and gained access to all of the summit’s afternoon panels.

“The LBJ Foundation was very pleased with the support it received from the Austin community and national sponsors,” Wheeler said. “This support demonstrates the importance of recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and shows that [the library and LBJ School] present thought-provoking and bipartisan examinations of current issues, along with remembering historic events.”  

According to Wheeler, the report showing the number of monetary contributions during the summit has not been compiled yet, but the event had two $200,000 sponsors, Coca-Cola and the GM Foundation, and five $100,000 sponsors, including Google and H-E-B.

James Harris, director of Supplier Diversity for H-E-B, said that when first considering sponsoring an event, H-E-B management determines whether it represents part of the business’s core values. According to Harris, H-E-B strongly supports education and cultural celebrations of Texas.

“We supported [the summit] because of the fact that LBJ was tied into it and he was an iconic figure in the state of Texas,” Harris said. “It fit within our core given strategy.”

Along with creating positive publicity for H-E-B, advertising assistant professor Brad Love said the summit also enhanced the national image of the University.

“The University again demonstrated it can handle large, nationally significant events,” Love said. “Having an event that focuses on discussing important ideas from a range of perspectives shows the quality of thought and intellectual work that we want around here.”

When it was first announced that four of the five living presidents would be coming to UT, the campus was electrified. We were on the brink of a historical landmark, and students would get to see it play out firsthand. The Civil Rights Summit would present students the opportunity to re-examine what the American promise “all men are created equal” means in present day. What they soon discovered, however, was that not all students are created equal when it comes to getting a seat in the audience.

Of the limited seats available in the audience, an undisclosed number were first allocated toward guests of the presidents and panelists. Student access was limited from the start. Students were told that the online live streams would make up for the lack of available tickets.

“A president says, ‘I’d like this many guests to come,’ and he gets to do that because he [is or was] the president,” LBJ Library spokeswoman Anne Wheeler said. “Then, we have approximately 60 panelists that have spouses and families that want to attend too, and that varies from program to program.”

There will always be priority seats for events of this nature. The better question, then, would be why the summit is taking place in the Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium, which seats only 967 patrons.

After family, VIP guests, security and media eat up another roughly 200 spots per event. Then, an additional 340 tickets were given to faculty, community leaders and guests. 

According to UT officials and the LBJ Library, out of the 1,400 tickets left for students, 435 were distributed via a lottery exclusive to the LBJ School of Public Affairs. This left only 875 tickets for the Office of the Dean of Students for distribution to the general student body. But before they threw all 875 tickets in the lottery, the office reserved eight of the 75 tickets to President Barack Obama’s address for incoming and outgoing presidents of Student Government, the Senate of College Councils and the Graduate Student Assembly and members of Texas Student Media, the Texas Unions board and the Campus Events + Entertainment board. Another 10 tickets out of 100 for former President Bill Clinton’s address were also put aside for student leaders in organizations related to student affairs, such as advisory councils for RecSports, University Health Services, University Residence Halls and the Gender and Sexuality Center. 

Additionally, tickets were given to other offices besides the Office of the Dean of Students and were distributed to exclusive groups. The six Larry Temple scholars were offered tickets to every single one of the events — including all presidential addresses except the one by former President George W. Bush. Select Terry Foundation scholars were also offered tickets. Eighty students involved in the Texas Program in Sports and Media also snagged tickets. It is unclear how many other prestigious student groups got their hands on tickets.

The remaining spots — likely less than 800 — were all thrown in six different lotteries, where 9,035 hopeful students vied for the opportunity to attend an event. That means that, at best, less than 9 percent of interested students were able to attend after all the VIP student invitations. 

And adding insult to injury, not all of those 9 percent attended the afternoon panels on Tuesday. As Madlin Mekelburg reported in the Daily Texan on Wednesday, low attendance left many seats empty, seats that could have been occupied by students who were denied tickets in the initial lottery. The University did, however, decide to offer “standby” lines for the afternoon panel discussions on Wednesday and Thursday.

Given all the limitations on student attendance, it’s worth asking why the University decided to hold the event in the Auditorium to begin with. 

“First, this is Lyndon Johnson’s presidential library, and it’s the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act,” Wheeler said. “His last public appearance was in this auditorium, during the civil rights symposium.”

Additionally, Wheeler explained that another reason behind the venue was its proximity to the Cornerstone of Civil Rights exhibit, where four key civil rights documents are located, including a signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Senate resolution where President Abraham Lincoln proposed the 13th Amendment, the signed Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the signed Voting Rights Act of 1965.

While I can personally appreciate the historical weight of the auditorium and library, I don’t think it quite justifies hosting all but one of the events in a venue that leaves so many students excluded from such a landmark occasion. There are many students desperate to attend the presidential addresses, and I can’t help but think that moving those events to venues like the Frank Erwin Center, where the capacity would increase more than sixteen-fold, from 967 to 16,734, would obviously greatly increase attendance and make the event much more equitable.

What this venue choice tells us is that the summit isn’t really for the student body at large. Choosing the auditorium over a larger, more general venue is perhaps symbolic of the intention behind the summit — hosting only the few most distinguished students and guests in one of the most distinguished settings on campus.  

Huynh is a Plan II and business honors sophomore from Laredo.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Although more than 9,000 students applied for tickets to the three-day Civil Rights Summit happening this week, it will be held in an auditorium that seats 967 people.

Tickets to the summit, which will be held in the Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium, were distributed to students, guests of UT administrators, participants in each panel, guests invited by the four presidents, current government officials and members of the general public. 

“When we do an event like this, first of all we’re limited by our numbers because the auditorium holds less than 1,000,” LBJ Library spokeswoman Anne Wheeler said. “We knew this was going to be a challenge for us and something we wanted to address early on.”

Wheeler said participants in each panel at the summit will have access to all of the other events and are allowed to bring a guest. There are 46 panelists speaking at the summit, not including presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush.

According to Wheeler, seating will also be provided for individuals invited by each of the presidents. Wheeler said for security reasons she could not disclose how many guests each president invited.

Wheeler said Gov. Rick Perry was invited to the summit, but will be unable to attend. According to Wheeler, Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz, John Cornyn, Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid were invited to attend. Wheeler said Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were also invited. Wheeler said she was unable to confirm which of these individuals have actually RSVP’d to the summit.

Douglas Garrard, senior associate dean of students, said 9,035 students applied for tickets via the general lottery, which was organized by the Office of the Dean of Students. According to Wheeler, 640 students received tickets through the lottery. 

The LBJ School of Public Affairs distributed 435 tickets through its own lottery system. Wheeler said every student within the school had the possibility of winning a ticket.

Wheeler said tickets were for either one of the president’s speeches or for all of the panels for one day of the summit. She said she was unable to say how many tickets were given out for each of the events.

Social work freshman Addis Gezahegn said she entered her name in the student lottery directly after it opened but did not receive tickets. 

“As a black student, I feel like it’s really frustrating to not be able to go,” Gezahegn said. “I would gladly miss class to be in the same room as the first black president of the United States. The only black person on the UT campus like 50 years ago carried a mop and broom. Now, Barack Obama is going to be here, and it’s really frustrating that I won’t be able to go.”

Correction: This story includes a quotation containing a factually imprecise impression of campus history. The first black students admitted to UT enrolled more than 50 years ago in fall 1956.

Civil Rights Summit

Museum patrons get a look at the Legacy of Liberty Exhibit in the Great Hall of the LBJ Museum, which will be hosting the Civil Rights Summit from April 8-10, 2014.

 

Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

For the Civil Rights Summit in April, the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum has introduced the “Cornerstones of Civil Rights,” an exhibit that includes the original Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, both signed by President Johnson.

“The cornerstone documents of civil rights are all in one place for the first time ever,” said Anne Wheeler, communications director for the library.

According to Wheeler, the museum underwent a $10 million redesign in 2012 to incorporate interactive technology into exhibits to reach more college students. Wheeler said the number of visitors, which is approximately 10,000 people per month, has increased since the renovation.   

“What we want to do is present the story of LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson in contemporary terms,” Wheeler said. “A big part of our exhibit is about LBJ’s legacy and how it affects people today — because you wear a seatbelt in your car because of a law passed during the Johnson administration.”

Wheeler said the cost of recent technology renovations is the main reason the museum decided to begin charging admission in November 2013. The highest ticket price is $8 for adults while tickets for UT students, faculty and staff to remain free.

“We don’t really feel like what we’re asking for is out of line,” Wheeler said. “In fact, it’s much less than most museums.”

Wheeler said, since the museum began charging for admission, the staff is now able to track where visitors, mainly history-loving tourists, live by asking for their ZIP code when they purchase a ticket.

“We’ll have a pretty good feel, probably in about three or four months, [about] exactly where people are coming from,” Wheeler said. “[Before], it’s been sort of a guess.”

Susan Binford, assistant dean for communications for the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said the Civil Rights Summit is a partnership between the Presidential Library, the LBJ School of Public Affairs and the LBJ Foundation. Binford said the Summit will not only be a celebration of past achievements in civil rights but also a reflection on current issues, such as women’s rights, gay rights and immigration.

“How do we draw on LBJ’s legacy of getting things done?” Binford said. “The short amount of time it took for him to pass such monumental legislation is not seen today. We have an opportunity to empower a whole new generation.”

Elizabeth Dupont, history senior at Texas State University who works at the front desk of the museum, said the information the LBJ Presidential Library provides continues to be relevant because race relations in the U.S. are still not as optimal as they can be.

“The fact that he got this legislation passed in the climate that he did shows we can aim for better,” Dupont said.

News Briefly

The LBJ Foundation awarded the first LBJ Liberty and Justice for All awarded to Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights leader who worked with President Lyndon B. Johnson to pass major civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s. “One of the key pieces of legislation that President Johnson hoped to pass was the Voting Rights Act,” said Anne Wheeler, a spokeswoman for the foundation. “John Lewis and other members of the legislature worked with the president to get it passed. It’s one of the most important pieces of the civil rights movement.” Lewis attended a ceremony in Washington, D.C., where Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Ron Kirk, the former Dallas mayor and current U.S. trade representative gave him the award. “John Lewis is a pioneer,” Wheeler said. “He showed great bravery for the advancement of civil rights and the result of that effort on his part was something very close to President Johnson.”