Civil Rights Movement

Rev. Jesse Jackson was a major figure of the Civil Rights Movement and Baptist minister who ran for president in 1984 and 1988. On Thursday morning, Jackson sat down with The Daily Texan to discuss the civil rights issues he feels students in the United States are most affected by today.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

Rev. Jesse Jackson, a major figure of the Civil Rights Movement and Baptist minister who ran for president in 1984 and 1988, sat down with The Daily Texan this morning to discuss the civil rights issues he feels students in the United States are most affected by today. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

DT: What do you think are the most important civil rights issues the United States is facing today?

Jackson: We’ve gone from horizontal segregation by race to vertical disparity by race and class ... [as demonstrated by] the radical rise in student loan cost. In the ‘50s, when the Russians sent Sputnik up, we thought they might have an advantage on us in science. We passed the National Defense [Education] Act and paid for kids to go to school. In five years, we caught the Russians and surpassed them because we lowered ourselves to scientific development. ...We should, in fact, have a plan now for student loan debt forgiveness, and reach out to that talent pool. That is one of the challenges of our time — radically reducing student loan debt. The other, of course, is that we need an amendment to the Constitution for the fundamental right to vote. We have a fundamental right to bear arms. Only states right to vote. So we have 50 states separate and unequal election processes. Beneath the fundamental right to vote, we need the constitutional right to vote, and, right now, we do not have that.

DT: On the subject of higher education, which you have talked a lot about before in the past, to what extent do you think the cost of higher education is a civil rights issue?

Jackson: Money should not determine who gets higher education. It should be based upon will and skill, and not based upon money. Many students [who] would be good teachers, or doctors, or lawyers, or scientists or researchers cannot afford to go to school. We cannot afford to discard great minds. We can afford to educate our children, and we must. And, right now, we’re making education costs prohibitive. Jails for profit and schools for profit do not reign true, but a bright future.

DT: Do you think there’s a racial element to that issue?

Jackson: Well, the evidence is fairly obvious that, of two million-plus Americans in prison, half are African-American. A survey [that] came out on the topic of education last week showed that black students at the kindergarten level are suspended more than white students. Blacks hit with more time for the same crime. Three Strikes and You’re Out was aimed at young black youth. ... So the evidence is there’s a strong racial component that blacks are targeted and steered.

DT: You mentioned a debt forgiveness program earlier, do you feel that’s the best way to solve the issue of the costs of higher education?

Jackson: It’s a major step in the right direction. Too many students are graduating with a diploma, but they bring in no job or they graduate with a diploma and they have to go back home and live with their parents as opposed to being free to go out and buy a house, buy a car, get married, have a family, the cannot afford to do so. So they go back home, which stifles the economy. President Barack and his wife Michelle said in a book he wrote when he ran for president, could not handle their student loan debt. It’s unbearable. Poor people ought to be able to go to school. And yet no one knows that the genius we need to cure cancer, the genius we need may be in the mind of a poor student.

DT: UT is involved in a major affirmative action court case. What do you think is the solution to that issue?

Jackson: Well, we have to accept that an advantage of 246 years of slavery, it was illegal for blacks to get on the track and whites could run as fast as they could run. We finally enable for them to get on the track freely and plan or path to repair the damage done by the time lost compounded by another 100 years of legal segregation. That’s why Johnson says in his speech at Howard University that it’s irrational to think that someone after 346 years can get on the track that they have been locked out of and be equal with those who have been running for three and a half centuries. So there has to be some affirmative action to offset negative action for women and people of color. ... Affirmative action is not a zero-sum game. Inclusion has led to growth. When there’s growth, everybody wins. The more blacks and Latinos and women educated expands the economy. It does not replace A with B. Because the walls have come down in the South, for example, and there’s no longer the fear that once existed. All these new airports – that’s the federal government. The Interstate Highways – that’s the federal government. The research and investment in this University – that’s the federal government. And so to see people like Perry run against the federal government de-benefits so many people. It’s demagoguery.

DT: [Regarding] the costs of higher education, how do you feel students can justify studying certain subjects, such as education, fine arts and the humanities, when high student debt and low pay make it financially impractical?

Jackson: Students should be protesting the rising cost of higher education en masse. There should be more focus on protesting the cost of higher education than going to football games. ... How many students are at the University of Texas?

DT: About fifty-thousand.

Jackson: If those students held a mass protest for student debt forgiveness, your legislature would come into a special session. If that took place at the University of Texas and Texas A&M and Texas Southern and across the state, you have the power. Our power is in marching and civil disobedience — you have the power through your vote — to march on campuses en masse demanding student loan debt forgiveness. And, of course, we’ve gone from in the fifties when education was free to now being cost prohibitive. We’re not going to remain a great nation if education is cost prohibitive because it means we’ll have to import students from other countries — which is what we’re doing, by the way.

DT: As somebody who was a part of these major social movements in the past, how would you advise students who support this cause to mobilize in such large numbers?

Jackson: First of all, students must be advised ... you must not self-degrade. You must not diminish your own power, your moral power, the rightness of your cause. Students fighting for the right to go to school but can’t afford the cost in money is a righteous cause. Students marching en masse for student loan debt reduction to administrative office is a righteous cause. That cause can go viral. Students pursuing their academics seriously, pursuing the highest and best grades they can get, likewise. Because, again, you want an airline pilot who is skilled in aeronautics, a medical doctor who knows his or her skill, but so many of our students who have the right credentials just do not have the money.

DT: Some here in Texas have argued that the solution is to have a more affordable but less substantial higher education system that focuses on quickly turning out graduates with technical skills. Rick Perry has talked about $10,000 degrees.

Jackson: Well, that’s another class strata. There are some people who should learn those technical skills because we always need trade skills. Plumbers and masons and carpenters and glaziers and builders and constructionists — we’ll always need the infrastructure workers. They’re highly valued skills because they’re necessary. Hard to find an unemployed plumber. On the other hand, the humanities and the arts also matter. Getting these high degrees also matter. So why have a cheap degree and an expensive degree? That’s just another class separation.

DT: You’ve come out very strongly against Voter ID laws, one of the most strict of which is here in Texas, so how would you go about trying to reverse the actions those laws have taken?

Jackson: The same people who didn’t want the Voting Rights Act in the first place saw mixed results, and they’ve never stopped trying to take it back. In this state, you can register with a gun ID but not a student ID. That’s an ideological loaded statement, choosing guns as an ID. In North Carolina, they’re already taking precincts off of campuses. In Ohio, they’re reducing the number of days you can vote. ...The Voting Rights Act enabled a new coalition of Americans to emerge out of the shadows. Blacks couldn’t vote, most couldn’t serve on juries, 18-year-olds couldn’t vote, though serving in Vietnam. You couldn’t vote on college campuses — you either had to go home and vote absentee. You couldn’t vote bilingually. That generation has changed the course of American politics. So everything they can do to make that more difficult, for seniors who might not have a voter ID, for students or for easy access — the countermovement to the Voting Rights Act is on the way. And it’s so sad to see the governors, as in the days of old, and the secretaries of state leading that movement, being the same people who are quick to fight wars for democracy in Ukraine or someplace. If they had voter ID in Ukraine, they’d be protesting just as loudly as the Democrats.

— Jacob Kerr and Pete Stroud

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Read recaps of Wednesday's events by scrolling down here. Click here for the liveblog of Thursday's events, which include addresses by President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush.

Updated (8:55 p.m.): For a full recap of Clinton's speech, click here.

Updated (7:22 p.m.): Former President Bill Clinton said voting in the U.S., because of voter ID laws and other restrictions, does not reflect the goals of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“Here in Texas, the concealed carry permit counts, but there’s one photo ID that doesn't count,” Clinton said.  “One from a Texas institution of higher education.”

Clinton also said the economy is a factor in preventing the country from fulfilling the goals of the Civil Rights Act.

“It’s all the more difficult today because of the economic conditions in which we find ourselves,” Clinton said. “The statistics show economic growth, but almost all of it is going to the top 10 percent.”

Check back soon for a full recap of the event.

—Julia Brouillette

Updated (6:10 p.m.): During the Clinton administration, there were students on campus calling for greater recognition of LGBTQ and black students' rights. Read that story here.

Updated (5:50 p.m.): Planning a Civil Rights Summit watch party? Click here for a guide on how to do that.

UT Law School hosted a watch party for former President Jimmy Carter's speech Tuesday evening. Photo by Pu Ying Huang / Daily Texan Staff

Updated (4:50 p.m.): As several civil rights leaders spoke about their contributions to the movement, they recognized that the movement was guilty of certain prejudices as well.

Julian Bond, former chairman of the NAACP, speaks at the "Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement: Views from the Front Line" on Wednesday. Photo by Shelby Tauber / Daily Texan Staff

Julian Bond, former chairman of the NAACP, said even within the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which had more gender equality than other civil rights organizations, there were still tensions between men and women.

“There were enormous tensions over the role each would play,” Bond said. “Had it not been for women, there would not have been a movement.”

Read the full story here.

—Alyssa Mahoney

Updated (3:35 p.m.): The University Leadership Initiative held a rally in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. statue on campus to show support for immigrants who have been deported.

Students involved in the rally held a number of signs, one of which said “we have a dream 2,” and chained themselves to the MLK statue, as representatives said the ideals of the Civil Rights Summit did not align with current U.S. policy towards undocumented immigrants.

Juan Belman, a second year engineering major who said his father is at risk of deportation, said that Austin needs to show support for families who have to deal with deportation.

“If we are a progressive community here in Austin, we need to show that,” Belmot said. “We need to show Texas how to move forward.”

— Adam Hamze

Updated (3:30 p.m.): For a full recap of "LBJ and MLK: Fulfilling a Promise, Realizing a Dream," click here.

Updated (3:02 p.m.): At a press conference at Fort Hood army base Wednesday afternoon, President Barack Obama spoke about the recent shooting that left four dead and more than a dozen injured, and called for increased support for Americans suffering from mental health issues.

"Part of what makes this so painful is we've been here before," Obama said. "We cannot ever eliminate every risk, but as a nation we can do more to counsel those with mental health issues, and to keep firearms out of the hands of those having such difficulties."

Obama also offered words of support for the soldiers' families.

"We hold each other up, we carry on, and with God's amazing grace we somehow bear the things unbearable," Obama said. "...This army and this nation stand with you for all these days to come."

— Julia Brouillette

Updated (2:50 p.m.): In their early 20’s, at the same age that many of today’s college students learn about the impact the two activists had, Bill Russell and Jim Brown were already utilizing their status as high profile athletes to strengthen the civil rights movement.

(From left): Former NFL running back Jim Brown, former NBA center and head coach Bill Russell and Harry Edwards, sociology professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley speak at the Sports: Leveling the Playing Field panel Wednesday. Photo by Shelby Tauber / Daily Texan Staff

At the Civil Rights Summit on Wednesday, Russell, Brown and Harry Edwards, a former sociology professor at the University of California, noted that their opportunity to contribute to the civil rights movement at such a young age came as a result of their strong upbringing.

“[Many of the people] around me at a young age were impeccable at stressing the importance of education,” Brown said. “Because I was helped at a young age, I knew my life’s work would be to help others.”

Read the full story of the Sports: Leveling the Playing Field panel by clicking here.

— Stefan Scrafield

Updated (2:12 p.m.): According to Andrew Young, former congressman and former mayor of Atlanta, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and former President Lyndon B. Johnson had a very amicable relationship, even as King and others pressured Johnson to introduce new civil rights legislation. Young spoke about the relationship between King and Johnson at "LBJ and MLK: Fulfilling a Promise, Realizing a Dream," the first summit panel on Wednesday.

“[Johnson originally] said, ‘I just don’t have the power,’” Young said. “I thought it was arrogant for him to say that… [but] we went to Selma on the second of January, and by the end of March the president had all the power he needed to get that civil rights act introduced.”

Andrew Young, former congressman and United Nations Ambassador, speaks at the "LBJ and MLK: Fulfilling a Promise, Realizing a Dream" panel at the Civil Rights Summit on Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Lauren Ussery / Daily Texan Staff

Young said Johnson and King were both adept politicians and said he overheard phone calls between the two men which suggested they had a close relationship.

“I heard them on the phone talking like brothers, like pastor and member,” Young said.

According to historian Taylor Branch, there was some disagreement about what Johnson’s views about race were—whether he changed his views over time, or if he consistently supported the enfranchisement of African Americans.

“I think Johnson had an empathy his whole lifetime,” Branch said. “I think those were his sincere views, and my guess is that they were formed long before it was popular to believe they were there.” 

Check back soon for a full recap of the event.

— Alyssa Mahoney

Updated (12:32 p.m.): UT President William Powers Jr. said that although the University has made great strides in advancing civil rights, historically, UT has been on the “wrong side” of the argument.

UT President William Powers Jr. speaks about the University's role in civil rights, and how sometimes it has been on the wrong side of the argument. Photo by Jonathan Garza / Daily Texan Staff

"The University of Texas has had a special role in the history of civil rights — first, of course, on the wrong side of those issues as a segregated school, and in Sweatt v. Painter on the wrong side of that case," Powers said in an address at the Civil Rights Summit Wednesday. 

To read more about Powers' remarks, click here.

— Madlin Mekelburg

Updated (12:03 p.m.): After students reported low attendance at several panels during the first day of the summit, event coordinators announced the creation of a stand-by line for admission to the remaining panels on Wednesday and Thursday. The line, which will begin on the east side of Sid Richardson Hall,  will be available to anyone with a UT identification card.

No stand-by lines have been announced for the remaining presidential addresses. To read more about yesterday's seating vacancies, click here

— Nicole Cobler

Updated (11:57 a.m.): The Google Cultural Institute, an online collection of historical archives, partnered with the National Archives and released various archives relating to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in light of the civil rights movement.

The “Historic Moments” exhibit features documents, images and videos of the development of the civil rights movement and the legislative process leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Google creates platforms and tools like this, such as the National Archives, to tell the story of diverse cultural heritage and share these archives worldwide,” Gerardo Interiano, public affairs manager for Google, said.

Gerardo Interiano, public affairs manager for Google, talks about the Google Cultural Institute, an online collection of historical archives. Photo by Jonathan Garza / Daily Texan Staff

Google is a sponsor of the Civil Rights Summit and is hosting “G+ Hangouts” with various summit speakers. Today’s “hangout” will feature playwright Robert Schenkkan at 2 p.m. To watch the livestream of the hangout, click here. 

— Madlin Mekelburg

Updated (11:53 a.m.): UT Parking and Transportation Services announced additional road closures on the east side of campus during the ongoing Civil Rights Summit in an email sent to students on Wednesday morning.

Robert Dedman Drive between Dean Keeton and 23rd streets will be closed on Thursday from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. In addition, Trinity Street between Robert Dedman and 23rd streets will be closed sporadically between 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. President Barack Obama’s keynote address to the summit is scheduled for Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

As a result of the closures, the PTS email said UT shuttles that regularly stop on 23rd Street will now do so on Winship Circle next to the Winship Drama Building.

Last week, PTS announced Clyde Littlefield Drive would be closed during the summit.

— Jacob Kerr

Updated (11:42 a.m.): According to psychology graduate student Christa Vassillieri, the Forty Acres Bus, which circles campus and has a stop across from the LBJ Library, has been more crowded since the Civil Rights Summit began Tuesday.

Vassillieri said she had forgotten the summit was happening, but did notice that the bus had more patrons than usual. Although Vassillieri said she heard promotions for the summit over the radio, she did not believe four presidents would have reason to speak in Austin.

“That’s what I thought I heard, but I was like, this can’t be,” Vassillieri said.

— Nicole Cobler

Updated (11:23 a.m.): Although former President Bill Clinton was originally supposed to tour the “Cornerstones of Civil Rights” exhibit at the LBJ Library before his address this evening, he will be arriving too late to take the tour as scheduled, according to Elizabeth Christian, president of the LBJ Foundation.

The exhibit, which opened  on April 1 and will remain open until April 30, features a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by former President Abraham Lincoln and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, both signed by former President Lyndon B. Johnson.

— Madlin Mekelburg

Updated (10:40 a.m.): Ben Barnes, former Speaker of the Texas House and Lieutenant Governor, said President Lyndon B. Johnson would be concerned about the rising influence of the Tea Party in Texas and the increasing divide between political parties nationally.

Ben Barnes, former Texas lieutenant governor and former chairman of the LBJ Foundation, speaks to media Wednesday. Barnes said he thinks President Johnson would be concerned by the polarization of the country's two major political parties. Photo by Jonathan Garza / Daily Texan Staff

Barnes, a UT alumni, was the youngest Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives at 26, and served from 1965 to 1969, while Johnson was president. Following Barnes’ tenure as Speaker, he served as the Lieutenant Governor of Texas. In 1995, Barnes received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the Texas Exes, the University’s alumni organization.

“As happy as President Johnson would be about what these four days are going to mean, he’d still be very concerned about the bigotry and the prejudice that are two of the important components going into the very divisive government we have today,” Barnes said.

Barnes said he was especially concerned by the state-wide prominence of the Tea Party.

“I read a column by a Washington writer last week where he said Texas is in a situation where the Tea Party is going to be stronger in Texas than in any other state, as far as state elected officials — I’m not proud of that,” Barnes said. “I’m not proud of where they want to take Texas and I think it’s a very, very grave time in our state and I think President Johnson would share that disdain.”

According to Barnes, Johnson — who signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law and increased the United State’s involvement in the Vietnam War — will be remembered for his impact on the functions of today’s government.

“As time goes by and there’s more public forums like this and people really understand Johnson and what he accomplished, people are going to remember Lyndon Johnson for what his domestic policy was,” Barnes said. “He really passed the legislation that is the framework and foundation of our government today — you can’t erase that.”

— Madlin Mekelburg

Updated (7:45 a.m.): While all available tickets were distributed for the first day of the summit, attendees reported a lower turnout. Check out this story by Madlin Mekelburg to read more about it.

Updated (7:26 a.m.): The timing of the summit is meant to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in July of that year. This video by Dan Resler explains the history of the landmark legislation.

Updated (7:00 a.m.): The first day of the Civil Rights Summit featured a conversation with former President Jimmy Carter, who said civil rights as they relate to racial minorities and women still need to be addressed, ranging from modern-day slavery to sexual abuse at college campuses in the U.S. 

Tuesday's panels also included:

1) A discussion about whether gay marriage is a civil right featuring attorneys David Boies and Theodore Olson, who teamed up in 2010 to challenge Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment in California that banned same-sex marriages. 

2) San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour talked about immigration laws and border security.

3) Musicians Mavis Staples and Graham Nash performed Tuesday night and spoke about their experiences and what influences their music.

Other highlights from the day can be found on our Civil Rights Summit, Day 1 Liveblog.

Sharon Robinson, daughter of baseball player Jackie Robinson, spoke at the Lyndon B. Johnson library Wednesday evening. Robinson adressed the challenges her father faced as the first African American to play professional baseball, along with the experiences she had with having a nationally recognized father.

Photo Credit: Raveena Bhalara | Daily Texan Staff

Jackie Robinson, the first African-American major league baseball player, was instrumental in bringing an end to segregation in baseball, but also in all of America.

Sharon Robinson, daughter of the late Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey III, grandson of the late Branch Rickey Senior, Robinson’s major league recruiter, spoke yesterday at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library about the role baseball played in society and politics through the cultural legacies of Robinson and Rickey. Sports Illustrated senior editor Kostya Kennedy moderated the discussion.

“Rickey and [my father] came together 65 years ago and started a partnership that was built on incredible trust within a racially-divided United States,” Robinson said.

At that time, baseball was segregated, and African–Americans and whites played in separate leagues, she said. Robinson began playing in the African-American leagues, but was soon chosen by Branch Rickey, a vice president with the Brooklyn Dodgers, to help integrate major league baseball, she said.

Robinson joined the all–white Montreal Royals, a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers, in 1945. Robinson moved to Florida in 1946 to begin spring training with the Royals, and played his first game on March 17 of that same year, Ricky said.

Robinson said her father made a commitment to play in what was then deemed the “baseball experiment.” Despite continuous racial abuse, Robinson did not fight back and soon made proved his worth on the baseball field, she said.

Texas Program of Sports and Media director, Michael Cramer, said this critical event was at the brink of the modern American Civil Rights Movement.

“This was a rare opportunity to have two witnesses of history talk about their experiences first hand,” he said. “It intrigued me because we don’t see the world like they did in 1947. These are events that happened in our grandparents’ lifetime.”

Jackie Robinson was the first African-American athlete who used his celebrity and accomplishments to branch into other aspects of the Civil Rights movement, his daughter said. Robinson is noted for his achievements within the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and his continued voice in social activism.

Robinson said being an athlete did not facilitate her father’s involvement in social activism. Instead, his natural instinct was to become a champion of civil rights, she said.

In order to bridge the social championing of Jackie Robinson to future generations, the Jackie Robinson Foundation was established in 1973 to promote the educational advancement of underrepresented populations. A total of 1,500 students have benefited from the foundation’s services, with a 97 percent graduation rate of scholarship students.

“Education has become such an embedded part of the Jackie Robinson legacy,” Rikey said. “These kids know they are Jackie Robinson scholars and won’t be let down.”

Symbolic of all his achievements, Robinson was placed as the No. 2 most admired man alive in a 1947 Life magazine, Rickey said. Robinson’s success on and off the field ultimately captured the attention of not only black America, but also white America, he said.

Public relations sophomore Meg Weiss heard about the forum in her Sports, Media and the Integration of American Society class and said she subsequently decided to attend.

“Attending this lecture was a privilege and it brought me to the realization that this major event in history happened so recently,” Weiss said. “I felt more of a connection to the story as opposed to reading a textbook, because this historical event is so prevalent.”