By Paul J. Weber, AP
AUSTIN, Texas–Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter on Tuesday night lamented continuing inequalities between black and white Americans during a 50th anniversary celebration of the Civil Rights Act in Texas that will feature four of the five living U.S. presidents this week.
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 three-day summit at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, which is marking 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,” Carter 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 anymore.”
The unemployment rate for blacks was 12 percent in February, compared with 5.8 percent for whites.
Carter, who grew up in Georgia, recalled being influenced by black culture and calling for the end of racial discrimination after being elected governor of the southern state in 1970. But four decades later, Carter expressed regret at racial and gender inequalities that he says are persistent.
The 39th president touched on wage gaps between women and men and reiterated his support for gay marriage. During a wide-ranging interview to a packed auditorium, Carter also chalked up loosened rules on political campaign contributions as partly the reason for a new era of gridlock in Washington.
“What happen 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 that lifted restrictions on independent political spending by corporations and labor unions.
“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.”
U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to give the keynote address Thursday. Bill Clinton will speak Wednesday, and George W. Bush will be the event’s final speaker Thursday. George H.W. Bush, 89, is the only living former president not attending the summit.