Julian Bond touts civil rights gains in Markim Hall opening

By Emma WestRasmus

President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and respected civil rights leader Julian Bond received an honorary degree to a standing ovation on Oct. 1 at the dedication ceremony for Markim Hall in Kagin’s Hill Ballroom. Bond, who was recently named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress and has hosted Saturday Night Live, currently serves on Macalester’s Institute for Global Citizenship Advisory Board and was on hand to deliver an address entitled “Civil Rights Then and Now” at the dedication ceremony.

Before a room packed full of Macalester students, faculty, and community members, Bond tracked the history of race in America, from his own grandfather who was a slave until the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, through the historic court case Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled on the unconstitutionality of “separate but equal.” Bond said that “race has always had an international dimension” and that he considers it to be a “global issue.”

“I was interested to hear his statements on the current state of race relations in the U.S. especially his take on economic inequality and the lack of progress since the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s,” said Anna Faber ’13, who had studied Bond’s work in a class about the history and theory of nonviolence during high school.

Though his speech mirrored his book both in direct language and overall ideology, Faber said she found that “the inflection and his passion behind the words added a whole new dimension” to her previous knowledge on the subject.

Bond said the 1955 death of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was brutally murdered for reportedly whistling at a white woman, was a “terrifying” event that served as a catalyst for his later activism. He said he was “encouraged to put that fear behind him” and channeled his efforts into sit-ins, Freedom Rides and other civil rights work.

Connecting the beginnings of his career to present-day achievements of the civil rights movement, Bond also cited the election of Barack Obama to the presidency as a triumph of 100 years of activism on the part of the NAACP. “It is impossible to understand the importance” of President Obama’s election, whose “victory was not only broad but deep,” Bond said. “Barack Obama is the embodiment of King’s vision.”

While on campus Bond also took time to visit Professor Karin Aguilar-San Juan’s American Studies class. Bond shared his experiences on a variety of issues, from organizing sit-ins with college students in Atlanta, and the use of housing as a present-day tool of segregation, to the NAACP’s relationship with President Obama’s White House, sharing an anecdote about Secretary of Education Arne Duncan calling Bond at his home recently to demonstrate how much Bond believes the White House values the NAACP and how the two are working together under this administration. When asked about his hopes for the next ten years, Bond said that he hoped to see the NAACP flourish and recruit more members, and that he also hoped that President Obama has a successful first term, and that he would like to see him win a second term as well.

In an informal question and answer format, American Studies students found Bond “very approachable, and down-to-earth.” The students also particularly enjoyed Bond’s recommendation of Copperdome, a local St. Paul breakfast joint famous for its pancakes, that was owned by the father of Bond’s wife and Macalester alumna Pamela Horowitz, who Bond met on campus at a political rally in 1968.

Amanda Nelson ’10 echoed how “relatable” Bond was. She also noted that the founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s comments about the importance of grassroots activism were very resonant, especially to the members of the class.

“We’re all involved in organizing, so it’s inspiring to be around him and to connect his work to things that we ourselves are so committed to.