The civil rights movement still has to fight to preserve what has been achieved since Martin Luther King’s death.
That was one of the messages Julian Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a leading figure in the 1960s civil rights struggle, told an audience of students, faculty, staff and community members Jan. 29 in a speech in Huntsman Hall.
Bond delivered the second annual Martin Luther King Lecture in Social Justice, sponsored by the Center for Africana Studies.
In his talk, Bond leveled harsh criticism at the conservative movement for hijacking the language of the civil rights movement in service of dismantling its gains.
“There is a right-wing conspiracy,” Bond said—“an interlocking network of funders, groups and activists who coordinate their methods and their message.”
Referring to younger blacks like former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), he said, “Rather than mount serious campaigns for the affections and the loyalties of black voters, they trot out bogus black substitutes and label them a new generation, assigning a generational conflict to blacks which doesn’t exist in the politics of any other group.”
On affirmative action, Bond said, “[It] is under attack not for having failed, but for having succeeded,” citing the growth of the black middle class since the 1960s. Bond also criticized the Bush administration for using its two black cabinet members, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, as “human shields” for its brief opposing the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policy in a case before the Supreme Court. Bond noted that both Powell and Rice have publicly dissented from the absolutist position outlined in the Justice Department’s brief.
Bond reminded the audience that blacks have only enjoyed full civil rights for 38 years. Thanks to the inroads made by the Right, he said, “we [now] find ourselves fighting battles we thought we had won.”
In the question-and-answer period that followed, Bond expressed skepticism about the rush to war in Iraq, but said that, despite his opposition to the Vietnam-era draft, he supported the idea of reinstating the draft “provided that it’s equitable and fair.”
Originally published on February 13, 2003