Civil rights leader Julian Bond talks social activism

by Erin Lee | 10/30/14 7:58pm

At the talk, questions touched on voting rights, Ferguson and the future of activism.

Civil rights leader Julian Bond spoke about social activism and his experience leading protests during the civil rights movement during a talk on Thursday afternoon. The event, which attracted more than 200 people, was presented in conjunction with “Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties,” an exhibition featured at the Hood Museum of Art until Dec. 14.

Bond, former National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chairman and co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, discussed the exhibit’s significance and its portrayal of the “army of anonymous women and men” during a 15-minute talk followed by a question and answer session.

“This was a people’s movement – most of those who made the movement were not famous, they were the faceless,” Bond said. “They were the nameless, the marchers with tired feet, the protestors beaten back by fire hoses, the unknown women and men who risked job and home and life. When we celebrate the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as this exhibit does, we celebrate them.”

The exhibit features works of art that represent a decade shaped by race relations and social protest in the U.S. It includes a photo of Bond and other SNCC members taken by Richard Avedon, a photographer who held workshops for the organization’s photographers and campaigned for donations.

Bond said the pictures reflect the fact that many participants in the civil rights movement were college-aged.

“What you see when you see these pictures is young people, that is, people in their 20s, who are standing there,” Bond said. “They look serious and sober, they’re black they’re white, but they’re all young.”

Bond said that many people overestimate the number of participants in the civil rights movement.

“I know there weren’t enough people involved when I was involved – there are never enough people involved, and I know there aren’t enough people involved today,” he said. “The remedy for this is easy – we need to recruit more people, get more people, draw in more people, convince more people they need to be engaged in this. The movement will grow and grow and grow, and we’ll be in better shape than we’ve ever been.”

During his presentation, Bond encouraged people in the audience to vote on Election Day.

Bond visited Dartmouth in 1986 in the midst of a campus protest against the school’s investments in South Africa during apartheid. A group of Dartmouth students destroyed shanties erected on the Green by protesters, sparking outrage across the country. Bond arrived after the protest to speak during a rally, and said he was proud and excited to be present among the student protestors.

Before he was elected chairman of the NAACP in 1998, Bond served for 20 years in the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate. When he was first elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, representatives voted in 1966 not to seat him after SNCC issued a statement expressing its opposition to the Vietnam War. He filed a lawsuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in his favor and allowed him to claim his seat.

Bond said he has been at the forefront of social change since he was a student at Morehouse College, and has supported both same-sex marriage and environmental protection.

While on campus, Bond also met with Dartmouth’s NAACP chapter.Evelynn Ellis, vice president for institutional diversity and equity, said she feels personally connected to Bond because she watched him lead the civil rights movement from her home state of Alabama.

Audience members asked about President Barack Obama, the Islamic State, Washington, D.C., voting rights and reparations for slavery.

Bond shared a sit-in song and a poem he wrote in response to questions from audience members. Shila Nelson, of Norwich, said she appreciated Bond’s reflections on the power of music during the civil rights movement.Questions also touched on the future of activism, particularly in the context of the riots in Ferguson, Missouri. Protests erupted in the St. Louis suburb after Darren Wilson, a white police officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in August.

Bond said that though police forces are learning to deal with protests in a more effective manner, there is still room for improvement.

“If you tell me things have not changed enough, that’s absolutely right, but that doesn’t mean nothing has changed. I think we all have work to do. Every single one of us in this room has work to do, and he or she needs to find something to be active in"