LBJ Library’s Civil Rights Summit shines light on Atlanta from Austin

By Maria Saporta

As the three-day Civil Rights Summit unfolded at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, one thing was abundantly clear.

Atlanta and its leaders were well represented during the event.

The summit began on Tuesday with Georgia’s own — former President Jimmy Carter, who spoke about his own evolution of growing up in a small rural town during the age of segregation. All his playmates were black, but they lived separate and unequal lives.

Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, who is the Barbara Jordan Visiting Professor of Ethics and Political Values at the University of Texas in Austin, said in a telephone conversation that Carter was fantastic, as good as she had ever seen him. She had already told her students not to miss his conversation telling them he was “the real deal.”

Of course, Franklin also was on the program, moderating one of the panels during the three-day recognition of the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

It just so happens that Franklin also is chair of Atlanta’s National Center for Civil and Human Rights (the legal name of the Center which will be having its soft opening on May 30th and its grand opening celebration on June 23).

Among the other Atlantans present during the Civil Rights Summit — all with prominent roles — were:

  • U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Atlanta) – he introduced President Barack Obama;
  • Bernice King, CEO of the King Center – she gave opening remarks;
  • former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young – civil rights leader who worked beside Martin Luther King Jr. and later in the Carter administration as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations – he was on at least one panel;
  • Julian Bond, former chairman of the NAACP (yes we still claim him as an Atlantan);
  • Vernon Jordan, a civil rights leader and high powered lawyer with strong political ties (and yes we still claim him too); and
  • Tom Johnson, former president of CNN and former deputy press secretary to President Lyndon B. Johnson who also is chairman emeritus of the LBJ Foundation.

One gets the picture. It’s impossible to have a program about civil rights in America without featuring the role played by people from Atlanta or even by the city itself.

Doug Shipman, president and CEO of the Center for Civil and Human Rights (which is how the new destination is being branded to the public), was enthusiastic about how the LBJ Presidential Library’s Civil Rights Summit was highlighting the role that President Johnson had played in the passage of that historic legislation.

“This is a really important moment,” Shipman said. “It’s a way to honor President Johnson’s role in this larger civil rights legacy. It was totally appropriate.”

Asked about the role of Atlanta and Atlantans in the Austin event, Shipman said you couldn’t have had it without the city and its leaders being represented. But he stressed that he did not feel any envy or jealousy that it was happening in Austin rather than Atlanta.

“This is not competitive,” Shipman said Friday. “The more people who talk about civil rights, the better it is for the Center and for the city, even if its not being done here.”

The $80 million Center physically would not have been able to host such a summit. Because of a commitment to open debt-free and to have an endowment base, the Center scaled back the first phase of the project and removed the planned auditorium that would have seated about 250 people. That is still being planned for future phases.

“I think the power of the Center is to convene the conversation, and that is not dependent on us having the space,” he said. “It’s not about what only happens under our roof. It’s about what we bring to the community.”

Shipman added that our big moment will be in November, 2015 when Atlanta will host the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Summit — an event that will bring the international spotlight to the city and showcase the role it has played in civil and human rights.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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