He told stories that were at the same time emotionally deflating and inspiring. He captivated a standing-room only audience of students, professors, alumni, and staff. By the end of his hour-long lunch meeting with the William Mitchell community, Julian Bond, a patriarch of the American Civil Rights Movement, had made his point: Progress has been made, but the fight for equal rights for all people is far from over.
Bond visited Mitchell on Thursday, Sept. 19, for a special lunch reception arranged by the law school’s Office of Multicultural and International Inclusion and Jeffry Martin, a 2003 Mitchell graduate and president of the St. Paul NAACP. Bond spent two hours sharing his story with the Mitchell community, then later that evening was the keynote speaker at the St. Paul NAACP’s 100th anniversary celebration.
Standing with Martin and Mitchell’s Dean Eric Janus seated to his left, Bond told attendees about how he became involved in the civil rights movement. It was in the 1960s and he was a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta. He and a classmate had read a newspaper story about sit-ins in Birmingham, Ala. Inspired, they organized a sit-in of their own to protest segregation at a local government building. He was arrested, and thus began a life and career committed to fighting for equal rights.
While in college, he helped establish the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a political organization advocating nonviolence started to give younger people more of a voice in the civil rights movement. He calls it his greatest accomplishment.
“The people I met are still some of my closest friends,” he said. “The work we did is still some of the most important work I’ve ever done.”
Bond has spent his entire life fighting for civil rights. His most recent position was chairman of the NAACP—a job he held from 1998 to 2010. Prior to that, he served as president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Before that he was elected to four terms in the Georgia House of Representatives and six terms to the Georgia Senate.
It’s an impressive resume, but it wasn’t always easy, he told the crowd at Mitchell.
In 1966, he was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives but was refused his seat because of statements he’d made against the Vietnam War. The U.S. Supreme Court later ruled that his First Amendment rights had been violated, and he returned to the House.
Bond, who cast his vote in that 1966 election alongside Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was asked whether or not King’s dream has finally been realized now that the country has twice elected an African American president.
“We’ve made progress,” Bond said. “We’ve realized part of Martin Luther King’s dream. President Obama’s election is something he would be proud of. But he would say there is much more to be done. And there certainly is more to do.”