AUSTIN, TEXAS— President Barack Obama has marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act that banned discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.
Obama traveled to Texas, on Thursday the home state of the late president Lyndon Johnson, the man who signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.
At a ceremony at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, attended by three former presidents, the United States' first black president recalled what the late leader's efforts meant for him and millions of other Americans.
“Because of the laws that President Johnson signed, new doors of opportunity and education swung open for everybody. Not all at once, but they swung open. Not just blacks and whites, but also women, and Latinos, and Asians, and Native Americans, and gay Americans and Americans with a disability, said Obama, who said his own career would not have happened without the law that opened doors of opportunity for millions of Americans. "They swung open for you, and they opened for me, and that's why I'm standing here today, because of those efforts, because of that legacy."
Gospel singers sang protest songs from the 1960s at the ceremony and the audience was full of civil rights leaders who pushed for the law. Among them Congressman John Lewis who was viciously attacked by Alabama state troopers in 1965 in a historic civil rights march. Lewis said Obama was born into a "dangerous and difficult time" in American history when people were arrested...for sitting beside each other on a bus," and he said the president knows there is still work to do to "redeem the soul of America."
The Civil Rights Act outlawed racial segregation in public places such as restaurants, movie theaters, and aboard buses. Until then, it was common in many parts of the United States for non-white people to be forced to use facilities separate from whites.
Polls show a majority of Americans see the Civil Rights Act as a positive moment in history and believe that race relations have improved; but many believe discrimination is still present in the United States.
A CBS News Survey says 52 percent see hope in ending discrimination altogether, while 46 percent believe it will exist forever in the country.
Some material in this report was provided by Reuters