Lauren Gerson / Lyndon Baines Johnson Library
Apr 14
April 14, 2014

Commemorating the Civil Rights Act of 1964


Last week, President Bill Clinton joined President Barack Obama and former Presidents George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas. Prior to President Clinton’s remarks on April 9, Vernon Jordan, civil rights activist, adviser to President Clinton during his administration, and long-time friend, introduced President Clinton to the stage. Read Mr. Jordon's thoughtful introduction of President Clinton and watch President Clinton’s full remarks below.

Good evening. It is truly special to be here to commemorate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which one historian has called the bill of the century. And it is equally special to introduce an individual whom I consider the Bill of the century.

About 20 years ago at a party, at the late Kay Graham’s home on Martha's Vineyard, I and a number of guests were treated to a performance by the great Carly Simon. Perhaps inspired by her incredible voice, a friend of mine and I proceeded to sing the Black National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” We sang a cappella the entire song, all three verses, just my friend and I. A photographer captured our duet which my singing partner later inscribed as follows: To Vernon, from the only WASP who knows the lyrics, signed Bill Clinton.

Now I won’t suggest that our performance rivaled that of Carly Simon’s, but I will say that the man who lifted his voice with me, the man whom we have the great privilege to hear tonight, doesn’t just know the music of the movement. He knows and understands the meaning of the movement.

I could see that way back when we first met in 1973, the same year I had the honor of keynoting the Civil Rights Conference here at the LBJ School hosted by President Lyndon Baines Johnson. What attracted me to Bill Clinton most was that this brilliant young lawyer might have embraced the wealth and prestige that his law degree offered, but instead he returned home to the South because he understood that when it came to race there was work to be done.

 And I watched him grow into a president who built his own legacy of justice and equality. Under the same leadership of William Jefferson Clinton, our country made real so many of the promises enshrined in law 50 years ago when President Johnson first affixed his signature to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Clinton years gave us the lowest unemployment rate in modern times, the lowest inflation in 30 years, dropped crime rates across the country, reduced welfare rolls, the highest home ownership in the country’s history, and if you can believe it, a budget surplus.

From his appointment of the first female Secretary of State to the first Asian-American Cabinet Secretary, President Clinton led an administration that looked like America and advanced the dreams of all Americans.

His commitment to that cause has continued beyond the Oval Office. Through the Clinton Foundation, President Clinton is engaging with partners around the world to bring medicines to the sick and opportunity to those left out and left behind. To date, the Clinton Foundation has touched and improved the lives of more than 430 million people worldwide.

 Now, my friend and I have come a long way in America. A few years ago, I paid President Clinton a visit at the Clinton Foundation offices on 125th street in Manhattan. We stood talking, looking at the distant skyline and the President said to me, Vernon, when we met in 1973, who would have thought that I would end up in Harlem and you would end up at 30 Rock.

 From yearly Christmas Eve dinners at my home to golf games on Martha’s Vineyard, my friend and I have traveled together for many years, proving to each other that friendship is the medicine of life.

Please join me in welcoming a leader who continues to lift his voice and lead works that are helping our country and our world ring with the harmonies of liberty, my friend, my fellow southerner, my golfing companion, my duet partner, William Jefferson Clinton.

LBJ Library Civil Rights Summit - Day 2 - Evening Panel (6:00-7:30 pm CDT)