The problems African Americans are facing today eerily echo the problems they faced at the end of the last century, according to former State Sen. Julian Bond, who presented the eighth annual Grace Towns Hamilton Lecture March 22. Attended by nearly 100 people, the event was sponsored by African American Studies.
Bond, who left Atlanta seven years ago to join the history faculty at the University of Virginia, is currently a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at American University. In honoring the late Grace Towns Hamilton, with whom Bond served in the Georgia General Assembly, he pointed out that only a few short years before Hamilton's birth, W.E.B. DuBois predicted that America's most intractable and divisive problems in the nascent 20th century would be related to the "color line."
Bond said that African Americans 100 years ago were facing a new century 30 years after the Civil War that gave them their legal freedom. That situation, he said, is echoed by today's African Americans facing a new century 30 years after the Civil Rights Movement that gave more legal specificity to their rights. Just as it occurred 100 years ago, Bond said, Social Darwinism is being invoked in reaction to laws and programs that advance equality for minorities. "Racist demagogues rule the land," he said, "and minorities have been made the scapegoats for all the country's economic ills, just as they were a century ago."
Many of the strategies African Americans used 100 years ago to combat such problems are being revisited now, Bond said. Those include promotion of the self-help ethic, renewed efforts to register African Americans to vote, an emphasis on African Americans starting their own businesses, and attacking black-on-black crime in African American neighborhoods.
Just as white resentment of the freedoms blacks won from the Civil War planted the seeds for the problems African Americans would face 30 years later, Bond said the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and '60s planted similar seeds for the backlash African Americans are now facing. During that period, white opposition to the federal government began to emerge, and the "remaking of the Republican Party into the white people's party" began. Initiatives begun under former President Ronald Reagan have drastically reduced the level of government support for the most vulnerable, at-risk people in society, Bond said.
When the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc fell in the late '80s and early '90s, Bond said, right-wing extremists replaced the erstwhile "Evil Empire" with a number of groups, including minorities, immigrants, gays and others.
In a recent poll to which Bond referred, respondents guessed the proportions of minority groups in America to be 18 percent Jewish, 21 percent Hispanic and 32 percent African American. In reality, the numbers are 3 percent Jewish, 8 percent Hispanic and 12 percent African American. "This perversion of the reality around us is the result of an organized campaign," Bond said. "And the aim of that campaign is the demobilization of insurgent politics. . . If the present climate continues, DuBois' prediction will come true for the 21st century as well. Race will continue to mark our society."