By speaking at UT, Obama follows in footsteps of six prior presidents

Natalie Sullivan

When President Barack Obama spoke Thursday at the Civil Rights Summit, it was not the first time a U.S. president has visited the University. Since 1900, seven different presidents have given speeches at the University to commemorate events and inspire students — although some of them did it from their carriages rather than being live-streamed on television.

The first president who visited the University was President William McKinley, who spoke from his carriage in front of the Tower in 1900, according to the book “The University of Texas Records.” Nearly five years later, President Theodore Roosevelt spoke from his carriage in the same spot, although not very eloquently, the book said.

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“He is not an easy speaker,” the book said. “His words indeed come with considerable effort, but they are well chosen, and his intense earnestness and sincerity give great force to what he says.”

A 1905 editorial in The Daily Texan gave the students’ opinion of the president’s qualities. “The student body at the University and the people of Texas, as a rule, may not agree with the President in politics, but they are much too broad-minded not to honor the office which he holds,” the editorial said. “Besides, he has some good qualities anyhow.”

Two of the four presidents at the summit, Obama and former President Bill Clinton, also previously visited the University. In 1995, Clinton gave a speech on racial harmony and cooperation, quoting Martin Luther King Jr. and urging both black and white Americans to reconcile their differences.

“We must clean our house of racism,” Clinton said. “We are one nation, one family — indivisible.”

Obama gave a speech in Gregory Gym in 2010, in which he showed students his “Hook ‘em Horns” hand sign and emphasized the importance of prioritizing education.

The president closest to the University has always been President Lyndon B. Johnson, who visited campus regularly and even attended football games in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, although he disliked the sport. One of his staff members was quoted in an ESPN article as saying, “He didn’t pay any attention to the game at all. He cared about as much about football as I would a ladies’ dressing parade.”

Johnson was friends with former head football coach Darrell K Royal and many other University staff and faculty, and the LBJ Library was built on campus in 1971 in his honor. His wife, Lady Bird Johnson, who worked for The Daily Texan, had degrees in history and journalism from the University.

President Johnson gave a commencement speech at the University in 1964, just before he signed the Civil Rights Act. In his speech, he spoke about how increasing population growth meant more responsibility for students to improve the world.

“For we are at a turning point in the history of our Nation,” Johnson said. “One road leads to the Great Society … and the other road leads to a legacy of despair and degradation. This is the time for decision. You are the generation which must decide.”