Bond: Civil rights fight paved path
The struggles endured and achievements earned through the civil rights movement are unforgettable lessons that offer a blueprint for modern battles over social issues such as voter suppression and economic inequality, veteran activist Julian Bond said Thursday at Wayne State University.
"In its successes, it has much to teach us today," the former NAACP chairman told a large crowd during the WSU Law School's sixth Damon J. Keith Biennial Lecture.
The presentation, "Under Color of Law," was part of the series presented by the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights.
It aimed to educate the public with insight from a major figure in the civil rights movement.
"He's a fighter for freedom, and one who's actually placed his life in jeopardy as he fought for civil rights," Keith said during welcoming remarks. Keith is a renowned U.S. Appeals Court judge whose landmark decisions have earned him the title of a fierce protector of civil rights.
While attending Morehouse College, Bond co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which played a major role in sit-ins and the March on Washington in 1963.
Recalling that time, Bond remembered facing charges for his role in staging a sit-in at Atlanta City Hall's segregated cafeteria.
When a judge asked how he wanted to plead, he was momentarily "panic-stricken," Bond said. "On the one hand I knew I was guilty. A policeman had asked me to leave and I refused ... but I didn't feel guilty. I knew I had a right to eat in that tax-supported cafeteria and that any law that said I couldn't was no law at all."
Bond, a professor emeritus at the University of Virginia who has also taught at Harvard and other schools, recounted how the roots of the fight for social change stemmed from societal imbalances.
"In those days, the law, the courts, the schools — almost every institution favored whites," said Bond, whose grandfather was born in slavery. "This was white supremacy."
His remarks inspired Michael Ryan, 17, a senior at Detroit Catholic Central High School who listened to the lecture for an AP government class.
"It really is eye-opening to think of how close it is to where we are now," he said, referring to the past struggles for civil rights.
Bond also fielded questions from the audience. When asked about approaching social justice today, he responded: "We can do these things if we push hard to do something about it. We can't do it if we're going to sit around and wait for somebody else to do it."
That encouraged Leslie Echols of Bloomfield Hills, who said Bond's words showed "what we need to do."
"It is our responsibility to continue to fight for the things that need to be fought for. If not us, who?" she said.