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Saturday, December 10, 2016

By Patrick Beach, Austin American-Statesman

AUSTIN, Texas—Former Texas governor and President George W. Bush wrapped up the three-day Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library on Thursday with brief remarks arguing that equal education for all is a civil right and that progress toward that goal is an advancement of Lyndon B. Johnson’s agenda.

Speaking in the 10th-floor atrium of the library before a dinner gathering — not in the auditorium as Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama earlier had — Bush said he feared “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” a phrase he used in advancing his No Child Left Behind initiative, had returned.

“Education in America is no longer legally separate, but it is not effectively equal,” he said, adding that “without accountability, it is poor and minority children who will suffer the most. When we invest taxpayer dollars, it is only right to expect results. Education is the continuing work of the civil rights movement.”

In his 15 minutes at the podium, Bush also noted that Johnson mobilized Congress to pass the stalled Civil Rights Act in the months following John F. Kennedy’s assassination and in doing so “turned a nation’s grief to a great national purpose.” He also reminded the crowd that LBJ’s demonstrable compassion toward minorities and the poor dated at least to the days of his teaching at a Mexican-American school in Cotulla.

“Can you imagine being an 11-year-old child and trying to explain to Lyndon Johnson that you forgot to do your homework?” Bush asked to appreciative laughs.

Bush also noted that, as president in 2007, he signed into law a resolution designating the U.S. Education Department’s headquarters the Lyndon Baines Johnson Department of Education Building and praised the entire Johnson family, including the late Lady Bird Johnson, whom he called “one of the great ladies in Texas history.” That comment spurred LBJ daughter Luci Baines Johnson to blow Bush a kiss from her seat.

The former president was his usual comfortable, wisecracking self, at one point making a joke that recalled LBJ’s often loamy sense of humor.

After praising library Director Mark Updegrove for recent renovations and upgrades at the facility, Bush said, “Former presidents compare their libraries the way other men compare their, well, I wonder how LBJ would have handled that.”

In his introductory remarks, Updegrove, at the request of the 43rd president, said a few words about former President George H.W. Bush. Updegrove reminded those gathered that the elder Bush refused to make a campaign issue of rival Ralph Yarborough’s support for the 1964 Civil Rights Act in Bush’s unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate that same year — although he might have gained politically in doing so — and that, much later, George H.W. Bush re-signed the Civil Rights Act as well as the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Photo by “amarine88” via Flickr.com