Former President Jimmy Carter says that 50 years after passage of the Civil Rights Act too many people remain “at ease” with lingering inequalities between black and white Americans.
Carter on Tuesday was the first of four living presidents who will speak this week at a civil rights summit at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library. President Barack Obama is scheduled to give the keynote address at the summit Thursday. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are also set to attend.
Carter says the country “is pretty much dormant now” on trying to reverse economic and educational disparities. The 39th president pointed to higher unemployment rates among blacks and also touched on wage gaps between men and women.
Speaking to Library Director Mark Updegrove and the summit audience, the 39th president said women’s issues — including wage disparity, sexual abuse, sexual slavery — and racial inequality are issues that still need addressing.
Asked if the country has progressed on race issues as much as he would’ve hoped, Carter was blunt.
“No,” he said. “We still have gross disparity on employment, in quality of education, a good many public schools in the South are still segregated.”
He also spoke at length about women’s issues around the world, including the number of girls strangled at birth by parents seeking boys.
“We believe about 40 million people were killed in the Second World War. Four times as many baby girls have been killed in this generation by their parents,” he said. That creates a shortage of girls that leads to an increase in sexual slavery, including in the United States.
“Slavery at this moment is greater than it ever was in the 19th century,” Carter said, quoting State Department numbers. “Last year 800,000 people were sold across international borders; 80 percent are young girls. It’s the worst human rights violation on Earth.”
In the United States, the problem of sexual assault is glossed over at universities and in the military by officials and commanding officers who don’t want their reputations besmirched, Carter said.
“Only 4 percent of rapes on college campuses are ever reported to authorities,” Carter said. He also quoted a report that said only 300 of the 26,000 cases of sexual assault in the military last year resulted in punishment.
Carter also said American women get paid 23 percent less than men for doing the same type of jobs and working the same number of hours.
The summit began with former Republican Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, a fast-rising Democrat and top surrogate of Obama, urging Congress to tackle immigration reform before the end of the year.
“The stupidest thing we can do economically is make them leave. We don’t have anybody to replace them,” said Barbour, referring to the estimated 11 million immigrants who are in the country without legal documentation. “So the impracticality of sending them home should be obvious to everyone.”
Their discussion was interrupted by a woman in the crowd shouting she was a so-called DREAMer — a young person who immigrated illegally into the United States — and calling on Castro to urge Obama to stop deportations of families.
No one removed the woman, who began shouting again when the panel was over.
Castro, the keynote speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, did not respond to the woman but later said he was troubled by families who are deported after minor crimes such as traffic stops.
“My hope is that his administration will go about it in a different way. I’m not comfortable with the number of deportations,” Castro said.