Chronicler of presidents is bringing four together

Four presidents will participate in an Austin event that goes beyond ceremonial roles.

Mark K. Updegrove (left) with President Jimmy Carter (right)

AUSTIN, TX (Texas Tribune) - Few occasions are notable enough to bring together former and sitting presidents, inaugurations, funerals, the opening of a presidential library. But next month, four presidents will participate in an Austin event that goes beyond ceremonial roles. And one man is largely responsible for putting the event together. 

Mark K. Updegrove, director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, will host President Obama and former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter for a three-day Civil Rights Summit commemorating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act. 
The event from April 8-10 will include afternoon panel discussions and keynote addresses from the presidents reflecting on the landmark legislation that Johnson led in 1964. 

The summit is the latest accomplishment for Updegrove, a presidential historian who became the LBJ Library’s director in 2009, the fourth in the library’s 43-year history. He has continued to build attention for the library, Johnson’s legislative legacy and the office of president through three acclaimed books, news interviews and articles. He is also incorporating modern ways for museum visitors to absorb information.   

Updegrove, who had been a media executive for Time, Newsweek and Yahoo, wrote his first book, Second Acts: Presidential Lives and Legacies After the White House, in 2006, and it served as a catalyst for him to pursue his second act of becoming a full-time presidential historian. 

Since taking the helm, Updegrove has hosted conversations with several presidents at the library. 

And he has overseen an $11 million renovation that modernized the LBJ Library, including interactive explanations of Johnson’s decision-making during the Vietnam War and how legislation passed during Johnson’s presidency affects life today. Museum visitors can now download an app that offers different library tours, including one in Spanish. Since the upgrade in 2012, staff members say, the number of visitors has steadily increased. 

While Updegrove said the subject matter lured the presidents to participate in the Civil Rights Summit, he coordinated with members of the LBJ Foundation and presidents’ staffs to secure the four commitments. 

His accomplishments are praised by museum visitors and members, directors and Larry Temple, the chairman of the LBJ Foundation. 

Temple considers Updegrove the best of the 13 directors within the U.S. presidential library system, citing his breadth of knowledge of the presidency and his published works. 

Updegrove hopes the Civil Rights Summit sets up similar discussions in the future. 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

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