Emory Report

January 20, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 17

Longtime activist Bond
to deliver King Week keynote

Former Georgia state legislator and longtime civil rights activist Julian Bond will deliver the keynote address for this year's King Week celebration at 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 24, in Glenn Auditorium.

Bond, a distinguished scholar-in-residence at American University in Washington and also a faculty member at the University of Virginia, will speak on "Martin Luther King: The Man and the Movement." The speech, Bond said, will examine the scope of the 20th century struggle for equal rights, specifically the role Martin Luther King Jr. played-and the role he did not play.

"We have come to deify King and to give him responsibility for events and activities in which he played no part," Bond said. "I want to argue that the civil rights movement was a democratic movement involving many, many people and many leadership figures. King was the most important of these, but he was not the only one."

This is not to diminish King's legacy, Bond continued, but rather to point out the "paralytic" effect it can have on the continuing struggle for American equality. "It's true with charismatic leadership generally," Bond said. "If you imbue some figure with responsibility for your well-being, you deny yourself that responsibility. That happened during King's lifetime, and in a way it's happened since he died because we keep saying, 'Well, gee, if only Dr. King were here' or 'If only we had another figure like Dr. King.' It's far from the only thing, but it's one of the things that makes it more difficult to operate.

"I travel to college campuses a lot, and it's rare that I don't hear someone say, 'Mr. Bond, some awful racial incident happened here a month ago; I wish the NAACP would come over here and fix it.' Well, why does the NAACP have to fix it? Why can't you fix it? We have to take responsibility for improving our own circumstances."

Bond has taken more than his share of initiative since enrolling at Morehouse College nearly 40 years ago. A founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960, Bond organized several demonstrations and sit-ins in Atlanta during the following years. In 1965 he was elected to the Georgia Legislature, but the body refused to seat him because of his condemnation of the war in Vietnam. Bond was reelected twice, and in 1967 the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to honor his election.

Bond served in the state House of Representatives from 1967 to 1975 and in the state Senate from 1975 to 1987. He lost a U.S. congressional bid to John Lewis in 1986. Bond also has served as president of the Southern Poverty Law Center and regional president for the Atlanta NAACP office. Today, in addition to his teaching and other duties, Bond chairs the board of the NAACP magazine, The Crisis, the oldest continually published African-American magazine in the country.

Though almost 30 years have passed since King's assassination, Bond said the issues confronting the struggle for equality in America-economic inequality and white supremacy-"have not changed one bit," even though much progress has been made.

"I'm a college teacher, and when I was the age of my students, I lived in Atlanta in a segregated world," Bond said. "My students live in a very different world. It's not a perfect world, by any means, but it's a very, very different one. So there's undeniable progress; it just hasn't been enough."

Events like the King holiday and King week can help make further progress, especially if they help not only to celebrate the man to whom they are dedicated but also if they prompt the kind of action to which King dedicated his life. While celebrations honoring King are all well and good, Bond would like to see community involvement projects held in honor of the holiday as well.

"I've always thought it ought to be a day when you try to do something the way [King] might have done," Bond said, "and I don't think he would have spent the day in an auditorium listening to speeches."

-Michael Terrazas

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