Bond: Struggle doesn't end with Obama's election

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Celebrate the historic election but don't be complacent, longtime civil rights leader Julian Bond told supporters of new President Barack Obama.
NAACP chairman Julian Bond delivers the keynote lecture. (Photo by Scott Soderberg, U-M Photo Services)

In his keynote lecture Jan. 19 at Hill Auditorium for the 23rd Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium, Bond touted action over dreaming by evoking Obama's campaign slogan "Yes We Can."

Bond told the audience, "We know we can, if only we will."

"You may have cried on election night," Bond said. "People think now he's going to be president and everything's going to be OK. But you have to push these people — they want to be pushed."

Bond said this lesson is evident in the example set during the 1950s and '60s. He noted that thousands joined King in the Civil Rights struggle. "Dr. King didn't march from Selma to Montgomery by himself," Bond said. "We should remember this was a people's movement." Bond said it follows that Obama also will require significant support for his social agenda to succeed.

The chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People opened his remarks by praising U-M and President Mary Sue Coleman's commitment to maintaining a diverse student body, noting the University in recent years took its fight to the U.S. Supreme Court to maintain affirmative action in admissions policy.

Coleman addressed this commitment in her introductory remarks, noting that several audience members likely were missing because they were on the way to Washington.

"Students are filling buses, just as they did to hear Dr. King in 1963 and just as they did to support our university's affirmative action fight at the Supreme Court in 2003," she said.

Coleman also offered a personal observation about the historic inauguration.

"Where I, as an 18-year-old, could not imagine an African American leading our country, today's students see the reality of President Obama. Where I, as an undergraduate, did not see women faculty, today's students interact with female professors, deans and administrators," Coleman said. "This is why diversity matters and why, more than ever, we must re-commit ourselves to a campus community that provides experiences and opportunities unlike any other university."

Bond, a civil rights leader and Georgia legislator since the 1960s, said that while some may feel the racial divide has been closed now that an African American is president, the statistical evidence in areas ranging from infant mortality rates to college attendance figures overwhelmingly is against that notion.

Bond said economic disparities for minorities are particularly deep, adding that the ongoing mortgage crisis hurts minorities the most, due to discriminatory lending practices.

He criticized the Bush administration for a range of actions including the appointment of conservative Supreme Court judges who have made decisions that effectively turn back years of support for eliminating segregation in education.

Bond suggested that the fruits of a socially just education system would benefit all.

"When I retire, there will be new workers paying into the retirement system, their names could easily be Tamika, Maria and Jose, and I'm going to tell you, you need to make sure they have the best schools, the best health care, the best jobs," he said.

"How we respond now and how we are responded to are important to maintain and expand the victories won on Nov. 4," Bond said.