US President Barack Obama marked the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act on Thursday with a speech honouring former president Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed the 1964 legislation into law.
“I have lived out the promise of LBJ’s efforts,” Obama said of the landmark legislation, which ended segregation and helped pave the way for Obama to become the nation’s first African-American president.
"I and millions of my generation were in a position to take the baton that he handed to us," Obama said.
Former presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all took part in the three-day summit, but Obama’s speech Thursday at the Johnson presidential library was hailed as the main event.
Audience members included Johnson's daughter Lynda, veterans of the Johnson administration and US civil rights leaders.
In the White House between 1963 and 1969, Johnson is best remembered for stabilising a traumatised nation after the assassination of president John F. Kennedy and for sweeping social reform legislation – including the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the introduction of healthcare programs for the poor and elderly.
“No one knew politics, and no one loved legislating, more than President Johnson,” Obama said. “He was charming when he needed to be, ruthless when required.”
Obama himself has enacted one of the broadest social reforms since Johnson's "Great Society" with his healthcare law, which is designed to bring America closer to universal coverage than ever before.
The law remains something of a political liability for Democrats, but Obama supporters hope it will someday become as entrenched in American life as Johnson's reforms.
Obama said that despite the great strides Johnson made toward equality, more work must be done to level the playing field for all Americans.
"What President Johnson understood was that equality required more than the absence of oppression – it required the presence of economic opportunity," Obama said. "A decent job, decent wages, health care – those, too, were civil rights worth fighting for."
"An economy where hard work is rewarded and success is shared, that was his goal," he added.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-04-10