A standing-room-only crowd packed Founders Hall Tuesday to learn about the civil rights legacy of America’s 36th president, Lyndon Baines Johnson. The younger of his two daughters, Luci Baines Johnson, had been billed to make the presentation, but due to illness, Mark Updegrove, the president and CEO of the LBJ Foundation and former director of the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, spoke in her place. A journalist, historian, and author of five books on Johnson and presidential politics, Updegrove explained the pivotal role Johnson played in the nation’s quest for civil rights. 

As he talked, Updegrove displayed iconic black and white news photos of Johnson, Martin Luther King, and other prominent figures of the era on a screen. Scratchy recordings of Johnson’s telephone conversations in the White House brought the man to life and shed light on his thinking at the time. Updegrove deftly put Johnson’s actions as a person and politician in context for the audience, linking events from his youth and his political career to the eventual passage of three landmark pieces of civil rights legislation during his presidency: The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. 

“There is so much to learn from the civil rights movement,” Updegrove said, noting the many similarities between that period and the divisive politics of today. “I know you might lose faith in a very divided America but don’t think you can’t make a difference in the national discourse. It needs your participation.” 

The lecture is one of two on civil rights organized annually by Stephen Balkaran, a professor of African American and Civil Rights Studies at CCSU. Updegrove spent the final minutes of the program fielding questions from students, including a group from the CREC PSA Civic Leadership High School. Dignitaries on hand included Retired Hartford Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts, now an instructor at the school, and Jimmie Griffin, past president of the state NAACP. 

—Loretta Waldman