LBJ Summit Returns to “Race in America”
Five years after landmark civil rights event, there’s plenty to talk about
In 2014, the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum marked the 50th anniversary of LBJ's signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with a landmark summit featuring, among other great and good people, Presidents Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. Five very eventful years (to the day) later, the LBJ Library will convene another star-studded Summit on Race in America next week (Mon.-Wed., April 8-10) at its UT campus home, with plenty to talk about.
Harris County Commissioner (and longtime state senator) Rodney Ellis, an LBJ School of Public Affairs graduate and a trustee of the library foundation, sees the present moment as ripe for a renewal of the movement. With an event like this year's summit, he says, the library ensures "so many people can participate in this dialogue – bringing LBJ and MLK back to life in 2019 – because the struggle still continues."
Ellis views the summit as an occasion for intersectional and intergenerational knowledge transfers as well: "These issues continue to evolve, and some of the struggles that were 'black' and 'white' and 'brown' 50 years ago now involve homophobia, Islamophobia, and a lot of other phobias." Summit participants include "people who've been involved for decades and people who've been at the forefront for these past two years" of life under Trumpism. "Even someone who's been involved in politics as long as I have" – Ellis was first elected to Houston City Council in 1983 – "can learn a lot about using social media and new sources of information to launch a movement. But it's also good for the new generation to learn lessons from those who came before."
The three-day event features lots of established names – civil rights legends including former U.N. Ambassador and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta, and political veterans such as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. It also includes rising stars of the engaged left in culture and media, including Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson (in a dialogue with Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo), Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson, undocumented journalist and immigrant advocate Jose Antonio Vargas, and Teach for America's Brittany Packnett. In a lighter vein, there are comedy sets from Sasheer Zamata and Dulcé Sloan and a soft opening for the LBJ Library's upcoming Motown exhibit, with appearances by Claudette Robinson of the Miracles, Mary Wilson of the Supremes, and Abdul "Duke" Fakir of the Four Tops.
The Summit is being live-streamed and involves students from UT and other universities around the state – part of what Ellis hopes is a commitment to accessibility that rises to the challenges we face. "These issues of race and class and inequality are ones we all have to work to resolve," he says, "or none of us will make it."
Summit on Race in America, April 8-10, LBJ Library and Museum. Free (tickets required, available at www.lbjsummitonrace.org).