January 19, 2007

NAACP chairman speaks out on King’s past and present

[img id="80129" align="alignleft"] A lifetime dedicated to pursuing civil rights has not given Julian Bond a rosy view of race relations in America. He sees a nation in grave need of improvements in education, employment opportunities, and health care for blacks in particular and all citizens in general. Yet the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) board chairman has hope for a better tomorrow.

Taking the dais before a packed Rockefeller Chapel on Monday, Bond concluded the University’s celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His biting and well received keynote address headlined the memorial service, along with a selection of spirituals from award-winning vocalist Robert Sims and Soul Umoja, the University’s student gospel choir.

Asked to review the nation’s progress toward King’s goal of justice for all, Bond opened his remarks with levity. He relayed an anecdote about walking on the campus of Morehouse College with King as the latter gloomily analyzed the state of the nation, commenting on racism, poverty, violence, and war.

“‘Julian, I have a nightmare,’ he said. I said, ‘No, Doc, turn that around; I have a dream!’” Bond said.

Bond went on to say that however bad the current situation may seem, America has come a long way in a relatively short amount of time.

“We are not far removed from slavery,” he said. “Only my father’s generation stands between Julian Bond and human bondage.”

While he gave his audience some quips to smile at and some reason to hope, Bond pulled no punches during his address. The life-long activist lambasted the Bush administration for its response to Hurricane Katrina, saying it had harmed America’s moral credibility on the world stage.

Controversial for stinging attacks on the Republican Party, Bond cited the recent Democratic takeover of Congress as a sign that “democracy is healthier now than it was last year.” He also criticized the Justice Department’s decision to support the termination of mandatory desegregation programs in an upcoming Supreme Court case.

“As long as race counts, we have to count race,” Bond said. “Affirmative action is under attack not because it has failed, but because it has succeeded.”

He was repeatedly interrupted by applause during his talk, and the audience rose for a standing ovation before he finished speaking.

Bond has served as chairman of the NAACP since 1998 and is currently employed as a history professor at the University of Virginia. He helped found the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in 1960 and has been a major figure in activist circles ever since.

Along with Bond’s address, the event featured a special tribute to King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, who passed away on January 30, 2006. Alderman Toni Preckwinkle lauded King’s widow for stepping out from his shadow and serving as a civil rights leader herself.

“So many wives of famous men are praised for keeping the home fires burning while their husbands changed the world. Coretta Scott King was a very smart, talented person in her own right,” Preckwinkle said.

The program marked the culmination of “Let Justice Roll Down Like Water,” a week-long commemoration of King’s life and work. The University sponsored numerous events, beginning with the delivery of a portion of King’s Riverside Sermon by Divinity School Dean of Students Terri Owens at the opening ceremony on January 8.

Other events included a January 9 community panel, a January 10 discussion of war and the moral imperative inspired by King’s anti-war philosophy, a January 11 debate on inequalities in education featuring Teach for America President Wendy Kopp and Center for Urban School Improvement Executive Director Tim Knowles, and a day of service in King’s honor on January 13.

The various events attracted a large number of attendees from the Hyde Park community, and Office of Minority Student Affairs Associate Director Mary Vander Kinter called the celebration a success.

“Attendance has been similar to what it was in years past, and most of the events drew out a good mixture of community members, faculty, students, and staff,” Vander Kinter said.