AUSTIN, Texas — A half-century after the passage of sweeping civil rights legislation, President Barack Obama declared that he had "lived out the promise" envisioned by Lyndon B. Johnson, the president who championed the push for greater racial equality.
Marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, which Johnson signed into law, Obama lauded his Democratic predecessor's ability to grasp like few others the power of government to bring about change and swing open the doors of opportunity for millions of Americans.
"They swung open for you and they swung open for me," he said. "That's why I'm standing here today."
Obama spoke at the end of a three-day summit commemorating the landmark law that ended racial discrimination in public places. The anniversary has spurred a renaissance of sorts for Johnson's domestic agenda, which included the creation of Medicare, Medicaid and the Voting Rights Act.
Amid the celebrations, Obama said he sometimes worries that decades after the civil rights struggles it becomes easy to forget the sacrifices and uncertainties that defined the era.
"All the pain and difficulty and struggle and doubt, all that's rubbed away," Obama said. "And we look at ourselves and say, 'Oh, things are just too different now, we couldn't possibly do now what they did then, these giants.' And yet they were men and women, too. It wasn't easy then."
Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrived in Austin on Thursday morning. Ahead of the president's remarks, the Obamas toured the LBJ library's "Cornerstones of Civil Rights" exhibit and met privately with members of Johnson's family.
The president was introduced Thursday by Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who withstood violence and arrest during marches through Alabama in the 1960s. Lewis said Obama's election marked a moment when the nation believed it "may have finally realized the vision President Johnson had for all of us — to live the idea of freedom and eliminate the injustice from our beloved country."