The University Record, January 28, 1997

Bond compares time after King's death with Reconstruction

By Jared Blank


In a Jan. 20 speech at the Business School, civil rights activist, professor and former Georgia Assemblyman Julian Bond presented a history of the Black civil rights movement, comparing the struggles of the "second Reconstruction," following Martin Luther King's death, with those of the first Reconstruction after the Civil War.

Bond said that the country continues to be plagued with a climate of divisiveness, punctuated by the past congressional elections and Supreme Court decisions. "We're meeting here in the aftermath of recent elections, 1994 and 1996, in which the electorate even more than usual was divided by race and gender," he said. "We meet in the aftermath of Supreme Court decisions which attack affirmative action . . . and in a climate in which candidates for the presidency made trashing affirmative action the centerpiece of their campaigns."

In fact, he said, the state of the civil rights movement for African Americans has changed little from the lifetime of his grandfather, a former slave. Bond said that 30 years after the Civil War, Americans "grew tired" of working for civil rights, just as he believes they have today. "Then, as now, scientific racism and social Darwinism were invoked. Then, as now, a race-weary nation decided that these problems could best be solved if left to the individual states. Then, as now, racist demagogues walked the land."

Bond said that Presidents Eisenhower ("a benign racist"), Kennedy ("only reluctantly endorsed civil rights") and Nixon ("used race to leech white voters away from the Democrats") and the 104th Congress either pushed back the civil rights agenda or did little to forward its progress. Of recent presidents, only Lyndon Johnson, Bond said, was sensitive to appeals for racial justice, creating the "second Reconstruction" which extended beyond African Americans.

Echoing the sentiments of many Martin Luther King Day speakers, Bond noted that African Americans today face the same challenges as they have in the past. "In life chances, life expectancy, median income---by all the standards by which life is measured---Black Americans see a deep gulf between the American dream and the reality of their lives," he said.

The best chance for these Americans to succeed, Bond argued, is through affirmative action programs. He dismissed arguments by opponents of affirmative action by noting that "receiving rights that others already enjoy is no benefit or badge of privilege, it is the natural order of things." Quoting comments made in 1967 by King, Bond added, "A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years, must now do something special for him."

Bond also reminded the crowd that the civil rights movement did not begin and end with King, nor does its fate rest solely in the hands of African Americans. "There remains enormous opportunity for service and action available to each of us, wherever and whomever we happen to be. Sadly, for too many Americans, the fight for equal justice has become a spectator sport, a kind of National Basketball Association where most of the players are Black and most of the spectators are white," he said. In reality, he said, "the players are of every color and condition. The fate of all the fans is tied to the points scored on the board. When good prevails, the spectators win, too."

The lecture was sponsored by the Business School.