Commemorating 50 years of change

History teacher Bill Staples backstage look at Civil Rights Summit


In 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination and racial segregation in schools and public places, and also rejected the use of poll taxes and poll tests. Fifty years later, President Barack Obama joined former presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and a number of speakers to discuss the nature of the legislation Johnson signed into law, as well as discussing many civil rights issues affecting the world today.

  Sophomore Pre-AP World History teacher Bill Staples worked as an assistant stage manager at the Civil Rights Summit, which took place April 8-10.

  “I got enrolled with it because a college mate of mine is a production stage manager, and he was hired to do that for the Civil Rights Summit,” Staples said. “When he got there, he found out that it was just him, he didn’t have any assistances, or anything, so he called me and another guy, so that’s how I got to be an assistant stage manager.”

The topics ranged from heroes of the Civil Rights Movement and topics on the actual legislation, and the characters involved with the Civil Rights Movement, to more current issues, such as gay marriage, immigration policy and education.

“In listening to the presidents and their take on the Civil Rights Bill of 50 years ago and the whole Civil Rights Movement, it’s just interesting to get other people’s perspectives of people who were able to really process what was going on,” Staples said. “There were also a lot of the clips they used at the Summit from the time period from before the bill was signed, and from around the Civil Rights era, and just reminds you of the vast quantity of material that video, film, audio that can be used to teach the period.”

At the Summit, speakers ranged from congressmen to college professors to CEOs and directors, to historians and of course, the presidents. Many of the speakers were alive during the Civil Rights period and were well-versed in the topics discussed and how they related to the current issues.

“It was just so interesting to get other people’s perspectives of people who were really there- I mean I was there, but I was in my adolescent years,” Staples said. “I was born in ’61, and so when it really kinda heated up in the ‘60s, I had memories of it, but you know, they’re sorta cloudy and vague, whereas listening to these guys like Carter and Clinton- they were there. There were like sentient human beings. They were teenagers and young adults, so you know it was really interesting to hear what they had to say and remember and talk about after 50 years of thinking.”

Staples met many people at the Summit, namely former Congressmen John Lewis, American Civil Rights activist Jesse Jackson, and former first lady of California Maria Shriver.

“I was just standing there and Jesse Jackson just came up, introduced himself and shook my hand,” Staples said. “I remember just kind of, you know, feeling that rush of ‘Did that really just happen?’ And later, when I was just sitting in the production office doing some work, I looked up, and Maria Shriver was just sitting across the room.”

Due to the Secret Service, Staples was never able to meet any of the former or current president(s).

“I was able to get close enough to President Clinton to snap some photos, so that whole situation with the arrival of a former president, I mean that was pretty amazing,” Staples said. “I mean it was so cool because the president is about to arrive, and the Secret Service is there, and they’re getting everything locked down and it’s pretty intense, and he arrives and the Secret Service becomes that much more intense about keeping things, you know, in place. I mean, the whole thing was just a really, really neat experience.”

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