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October 16, 2003

civil rights photo

President Lyndon B. Johnson with civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young, and James Farmer in the Oval Office.

40th anniversary inspires new debate on civil rights in America

At the LBJ School of Public Affairs the 40th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act is stirring a new dialog about the state of civil rights in today’s America. The anniversary holds special importance for the LBJ School community, not only because President Lyndon Johnson signed the act into law, but also because of the School’s long commitment to social policy.

With a class of 14 students, Dean Edwin Dorn and LBJ graduate Kristen Kimbell are leading a Policy Research Project (PRP) on the civil rights movement that will culminate with a national symposium next March. Cosponsored by the LBJ Library and Museum, the conference will be called “Civil Rights: From Black and White to Color.”

Wilkins photo

At a Sept. 6 engagement, civil rights activists Ada Anderson and Roger WiIlkins shared reflections of the 1960s with LBJ School students who are organizing a conference on the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.

“In the past civil rights issues were black and white,” said Dorn. “I mean that in two senses. First, of course, we were dealing with a black minority that had been oppressed by a white majority. Second, the issues were black-and-white: racial discrimination was morally wrong.”

The situation today is not as clear, said Dorn. “Our society is much more richly textured than it was 40 years ago,” he said. He attributes this partly to demographic trends that have made the country much more diverse racially and culturally. Further, some of the issues are more complex. Given the recent concern with terrorism, for example, would it be reasonable for airlines to subject travelers with certain ethnic or national profiles to greater security screening? ““This could become one of the civil rights issues of the next few decades,” he said. “We need to start thinking seriously about it.”

With the March 2004 symposium as the central focus, Dorn has divided the yearlong PRP into three main areas. The first involves conducting critical policy research on the history and current state of civil rights in the U.S. The second entails planning, publicizing, and hosting the three-day event. And the third will consist of editing and publishing the conference proceedings.

Boyce photo

Flanked by LBJ School Dean Edwin Dorn and LBJ Library and Museum Director Betty Sue Flowers, Joseph Boyce visited Dorn's civil rights PRP on Oct. 9. The former Senior Editor of the Wall Street Journal spoke about the role of the television media in the 1960s civil rights movement.

None of the student PRP members has a firsthand recollection of the 1960s civil rights movement. To deepen their knowledge, Dorn has invited several experts to the class who have shared their expertise as well as their personal accounts of the civil rights movement. Among them are Roger Wilkins, an award-winning journalist who served as assistant attorney general during the Johnson administration; and Ada Anderson, an Austin area civil rights activist. The course’s extensive reading list includes the classic Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois; Simple Justice by Richard Kluger, which outlines the history of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision; and Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch, which focuses on the Martin Luther King’s role in the civil rights movement from 1954 to 1963.

2003 Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
P.O. Box Y
Austin, TX 78713-8925

16 October 2003

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