The University Record, January 18, 1999

Bond offers anecdotal history lesson in honor of King

By Kerry Colligan

Everyone says they’re a student of Dr. King, Julian Bond began. But Martin Luther King Jr. only taught one class, and there were only eight students. Bond was one of those students.

“I’d like to be able to tell you that I had the presence of mind to take extensive notes in class, and I kept those notes until today. But I didn’t do that. Or that I’d had the wit to bring a tape recorder to class, and I’d tape recorded these pearls of wisdom that fell from the lips of this marvelous man. But I didn’t do that either. In fact, I remember almost nothing that transpired during that class.”

Whether Bond recalls those “pearls,” he did not say. But for the full-house audience at his Jan. 14 lecture “Then and Now: A Reflection on Social Justice in the 1960s and 1990s,” he crossed more than 80 years of civil rights history.

The plan for social justice first articulated by W.E.B. DuBois in 1905 was followed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)—of which Bond is chairman of the board—since its inception in 1909, Bond said. That plan was simple: “We must complain. . . . unfailing exposure of dishonesty and wrong. This is the unerring way to liberty and we must follow it.”

This first manifested itself for the NAACP in litigation. Bond recalled the shift in ideology brought about by the Supreme Court decision in the Brown vs. Board of Education case in 1954. “That decision,” he said, “gave a nonviolent army the license to challenge segregation’s morality. From Brown, the movement expanded its targets, its tactics and its techniques.

“With the Montgomery bus boycott the following year, Dr. King began to articulate a new methodology, nonviolent resistance to segregation. The new method required mass participation. Reliance on slower appeals to the courts began to subside.”

During the 1960s, Bond—who is a history professor at the University of Virginia and one of the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)—said the strategy was to use litigation, organization, mobilization and coalition building to create a national political constituency. Today, the tools remain the same.

“We look back on [the 1960s] with fond nostagia, as if these were the only years we were truly able to overcome. Our inability to do so today is conditioned in small part by the way we recall Dr. King. For most of us, he’s little more than an image seen in grainy black-and-white television film. . . . But King, of course, was much, much more than that, and the movement much more than Martin Luther King. He’s not the only soldier missing from the freedom fight. He didn’t march from Selma to Montgomery by himself. He didn’t speak to an empty field at the march on Washington, D.C. There were thousands marching with him and before him. . . . Black Americans didn’t march to freedom. We worked our way to civil rights through the difficult business of organizing.”

The fight for equal justice, Bond continued, has become a spectator sport. This may be due, in part, to the “daunting” conditions Black Americans face. “By all the standards by which life is measured—life chances, life expectancy, median income—Black Americans see a deep gulf between the American dream and the reality of their lives.”

These days we find trashing affirmative action substitutes as real dialogue about racism. We’ve substituted the sound bite for organization, he said.

“Affirmative action isn’t about preferential treatment for Blacks. It is about removing preferential treatment whites have received for centuries. And it isn’t a poverty program. It ought not be blamed for failing to solve problems it was not designed to solve. It is a program designed to counter racial discrimination, not poverty.”

Bond’s lecture was sponsored by the MLK Symposium Planning Committee, the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies, the School of Public Policy, and the departments of history and political science.

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