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Carter opens look at LBJ, 1964 civil rights law

AUSTIN, Texas — Former President Jimmy Carter on Tuesday night lamented continuing inequalities between black and white Americans during a 50th anniversary celebration of the Civil Rights Act that will feature four of the five living U.S. presidents this week in Texas.

Carter said "too many people are at ease" with black unemployment rates that exceed the national average and schools in some places that he described as basically still segregated.

Carter, 89, was the first president to speak at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, which is holding the three-day summit to mark the anniversary of the landmark 1964 law that banned widespread discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities and against women.

"We're pretty much dormant now," he said. "We accept self-congratulations about the wonderful 50th anniversary — which is wonderful — but we feel like Lyndon Johnson did it and we don't have to do anything."

The unemployment rate was 12 percent for blacks and 5.8 percent for whites in February.

Carter, who grew up in Georgia, recalled being influenced by black culture and calling for the end of racial discrimination after he was elected governor of that state in 1970. But four decades later, Carter expressed regret at racial and gender inequalities that he says are persistent.

He touched on wage gaps between women and men and reiterated his support for gay marriage. During a wide-ranging interview in a packed auditorium, he also chalked up loosened rules on political campaign contributions as partly the reason for gridlock in Washington.

"What happens is that the political environment is flooded with money since the Supreme Court made that stupid decision," Carter said, a reference to the high court's 2010 Citizens United ruling.

"A lot of that money pours into the campaigns is spent on negative commercials. … So by the time the election's over, you have a polarized Texas or polarized Georgia, red and blue states. Then, when people get to Washington, they don't trust each other," he said.

Former President Bill Clinton will speak today. President Barack Obama will give the keynote address Thursday morning, and former president George W. Bush will speak that evening, closing the event on a bipartisan note.

Former President George H.W. Bush, 89, is the only living president not attending the summit. He said in a statement that he regretted that he couldn't attend.