Horace Julian Bond’s career as a civil-rights and political leader is practically peerless. There may be nobody other than Jesse Jackson who has for so long led for so well.
While still in college in 1960, Bond, now 58, was a founder of the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights, an Atlanta University Center student civil-rights organization. The group won integration of Atlanta's movie theaters, lunch counters and parks. Bond himself was arrested for sitting in at the segregated cafeteria at Atlanta City Hall.
Later that year, Bond also helped form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and became SNCC's communications director. He edited the SNCC newsletter, The Student Voice, and worked voter registration drives throughout the South.
Bond entered electoral politics in 1965, winning a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives. Members of the House voted not to seat him because of his opposition to the Vietnam War. Bond won a second election to fill his empty seat in 1966 and the House voted to keep him out again. He won a third election in 1966, and a month later the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Georgia House violated Bond's rights when it refused him his seat. In 1968 Bond was nominated for vice president of the United States, but had to withdraw his name because he was too young to serve.
When Morris Dees and Joe Levin founded the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1971, Bond became its first president.
Bond was elected to the Georgia Senate in 1974. He served six terms in the Senate until he ran an unsuccessful congressional race in 1986.
Along the way, Bond has written several books and dozens of magazine and newspaper articles and commentaries and taught at several universities. He also narrated numerous television programs, including the 1994 Academy-Award-winning, A Time for Justice, a documentary on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Teaching Tolerance” program. Not without a sense of humor, Bond hosted Saturday Night Live in April 1977 and counted John Belushi as one of his friends.
Bond, who currently serves as NAACP board chairman, will deliver the keynote address at the Carbondale NAACP’s twenty-second Freedom Fund banquet Sunday, October 11 at 6 PM at the SIUC Student Center Ballrooms.
Tickets to the event are $25 and must be purchased in advance. For tickets and other information, call Ann Marie at (618) 549-4620 or Corene at (618) 457-4515.
On Monday morning I spoke with Bond, who delivers his statements in a deliberate, thoughtful manner in a deep but reedy voice. Here’s how it went.
As I was writing questions for you, no kidding, it came on the news that George Wallace died. Any thoughts about his legacy?
Well, for better or worse, he’s going to be remembered as the person who nationalized racism in American politics. And despite his, what I consider to be, sincere apologies, that’s what his legacy is going to be.
Athletes have always figured largely in both African American communities and the rest of the nation. In the ‘50s, there was Jackie Robinson. In the ‘60s, there was a Muhammad Ali, a Jim Brown— people who were not only great athletes but who were politically active and who seemed to reach the African American community on a political level. I don’t think we see that so much today in, say, the Michael Jordans.
No, we don’t see much of it. Now, the Michael Jordans of this world are generous with their resources in helping finance social service in black America. They are not nearly so generous in helping finance social justice. And it is social justice that we require as much, if not more than social service. If social justice is provided, social service takes care of itself.
How do we reach some of the younger athletes—
I tell ya, I wish I knew. I’d be knocking on their doors in a minute.
It’s kind of odd that it didn’t transpire, that the Mike Tysons didn’t see the Muhammad Alis for their political stands and maybe take up some of that.
Yes, it is odd. I’m unable to account for it. But it does seem peculiar to me that Jackie Robinson, you know, these other figures didn’t hold up a standard of behavior that these other, younger guys would want to live up to.
I saw a story in Sports Illustrated a couple years ago, interviews with black baseball players, and a striking number of them had no idea who Jackie Robinson was.
Well, it’s like the guy who mugged—
One place where I do believe we’ve seen some political movement, however, is in music. Hip-hop particularly seems to have picked up some of the political aspects of, say, Sly and the Family Stone or maybe some of James Brown’s more political stuff.
Yes, but they’re, I think, an exception
Do you think that’s reaching the audience?
I’m not sure what the political message is. If it’s simply a description that things are in bad shape, that’s OK, but what really is required here is some course of action, and I’m not convinced we’re getting that.
What is the role of the church in today’s civil-rights movement, particularly with the rise in non-Christian faiths in the African American community?
Well, it ought to be as a definer of right. All too often, the institutional church preaches an other-worldly religion, salvation in the great hereafter, rather than an applied religion that speaks to our condition here on Earth.
What do you think the impact has been of non-Christian faiths in the African American community, particularly Islam— both orthodox Islam and the Nation of Islam?
Well, I think all of it shows that, first, our population is becoming more diverse; second, that large numbers of people are looking for some sort of meaningful search experience and they may not find it in the institutional, mainstream church, and so they look to other faiths. And then these other faiths have an enormous appeal. Islam preaches true brotherhood and orthodox Islam practices it in a way that orthodox Christianity doesn’t always seem to.
Political power— enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, for instance— didn’t result in economic empowerment. How is economic parity achieved?
In a variety of ways. For one, more vigorous enforcement of existing laws against discrimination. When a black person is denied a job or promotion or education, that person really is being impoverished, and that impoverishment impoverishes the community in which he or she lives. That’s one thing.
The other is to expand access to credit, to the banking system to eliminate red-lining, to make it sure that racial minorities aren’t the victims of these pernicious economic policies, so they can be wage-earners, income-earners, taxpayers...
How do we make voting part of the civic responsibility, especially with younger voters? It seems to be an issue that crosses racial lines. I know [Louis] Farrakhan tried to get a voting bloc of younger voters together to try to influence things, but wasn’t able to really do it in the last election.
Well, I think you have to go back to the tried-and-true methods that have been successful in the past and will be in the future. You have to first go to people where they are and register them. You have to educate them about what the issues are and how these issues affect them even if they don’t think they do. Then, on Election Day, you have to knock on their door or call them on the phone and say, “Listen— this is the day. If you need a ride, I’ll come pick you up. Knock on your neighbor’s door and I’ll come take them, too.”
So you have to do sort of the tried-and-true stuff that has worked so well in the past.
One of the other problems might be getting candidates who can not only address some of the issues of those voters, but also have a reasonable shot at winning. That seems also to be a major obstacle.
It’s sort of a which-came-first proposition. I think if there’s a body of registered and aggressive voters, candidates will emerge to meet their needs.
How do you make the NAACP relevant with younger people who might find it part of the establishment or who feel it works more within the system than they’d like?
Well, I first say, I don’t know who does not work in the system. I don’t understand this dichotomy. Who does not work in the system?
Secondly, I’d say that we are relevant to young people. We have 350 college and high school chapters scattered around the country. We have a large complement of young people. We have more youth members than any other adult organization that has both youth and adult members.
So we’re not lacking our share of young people, but having said that, we could have more adult and youth members and we just got to reach out to them. I think if people understand what we do, then they’ll say, “Gee, I’d like to be a part of that.”
What do you feel are the primary civil-rights issues today?
There are several: maintaining affirmative action, one is more vigorous enforcement of civil-rights laws, and one is getting the beneficiaries of white privilege to admit their privilege and to work to share that privilege with other people not like them.
That’s like what Jesse Jackson is trying to do in courting Wall Street to invest in African American communities.
Do you think that approach could prove self-destructive? One of the few but very obvious backfirings in the civil-rights movement was that the number of African American-owned businesses collapsed when white-owned businesses finally allowed themselves to start serving blacks.
I think that was an unintended fallout of the movement, but it doesn’t have to be a fallout of the present day. You know, we live increasingly in an economically integrated world. It’s sad, but the day when the neighborhood Mom-and-Pop grocery store could compete with the A&P, that day is gone unless that store specializes in some unique way. This is not a problem peculiar to black business— it’s a problem peculiar to the American economy. We’ve got to be competitive in the large society, and I think that’s what Jesse Jackson is all about.
who: Julian Bond
what: the Carbondale NAACP’s twenty-second Freedom Fund banquet
where: SIUC Student Center Ballrooms
when: Sunday, October 11