January 31, 2014 | By Jake Weber; photos by Dave Lawrence
A capacity crowd braved the snow and cold January 30 to hear NAACP Chairman Emeritus and civil rights activist Julian Bond deliver the keynote address during Albion College's Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation and Community Celebration at Goodrich Chapel. Bond drew from his experiences as a history professor and history maker to offer an insightful understanding of the past and future of the civil rights movement.
Bond affectionately acknowledged his friendship with Albion history professor Wes Dick, developed during Bond's "Footsteps to Freedom" tours over the past several years. Bond recalled a recent trip, which included a walk to Birmingham, Alabama's 16th Street Baptist Church, which Bond and Dick have visited many times. "I was leading about 20 people; we turned [the corner] and there was no church," Bond smiled. "Wesley Dick said, 'I know where it is' and he led us there."
A student in the only class taught by Martin Luther King, Jr., at their shared alma mater of Morehouse College, Bond noted King's essential place in the history of the civil rights movement. However, he further noted, "we now have a different view of that period. Instead of the towering figures of King and Kennedys standing alone, we now see an army of anonymous women and men …. instead of a series of well-publicized marches and protests, we now see long organizing campaigns and brave and lonely soldiers often working in near solitude."
He also illustrated the movement's influence beyond ending African-American segregation. "The antiwar movement of the 1960s drew its earliest soldiers from the Southern freedom marches," Bond explained. "The reform movement for women's rights took cues and momentum from the Southern movement for civil rights."
Despite the many successes of the civil rights movement, however, Bond said that equality is still a work in progress. He noted that African-Americans still do not have parity with white Americans in measures including education, income and life expectancy—with obvious reason. "Less than 10 years after the Civil War ended, the nation chose sides with the losers and agreed to continue segregation for another 100 years. This dreadful legacy of slavery is with us today.
"If you are 50 years or older, it's only in your lifetime that racial equality became a reality, and not before," said Bond. "As one historian has observed, 'The greatest detriment to achieving racial equality is the belief that we already have.'"
In closing, Bond called the audience to action, asking all to lobby their legislators to preserve the Voting Rights Act. "We have a long and honorable tradition of social justice in this country," said Bond. "This is important legislation that should be supported by everyone."