Civil-rights leader Julian Bond: ‘There are still barriers to our full participation in American society’

Growing up in the civil rights movement, Julian Bond learned firsthand that there is power in numbers.

That’s the belief he discussed at the “Civil Rights Movement: Legacy and Visions” speaker-series event at Germantown Friends School (GFS) on Thursday night.

Bond spoke candidly to the ethnically diverse crowd about his experience as one of the founders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which is widely known for sit-in and freedom-ride protests against the southern states’ Jim Crow laws.

He also discussed the many changes that have occurred over the years. Some were positive, but the negative changes are why he said he thinks there is still much work to do.

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“For a couple of hundred years, black people have lifted themselves from slavery to freedom and many changes have occurred in our lives,” he said, “but there are still barriers to our full participation in American society and we need to continue the struggle so we can get rid of those barriers, too.”

Not enough progress

When David Gould, a GFS alumnus, asked about the progress of African Americans today, Bond implied that they are not making as much progress as they had in the past. He said that is a result of a community not uniting as effectively as during the civil rights movement.

“I think part of it is that there are not as many explicit barriers to equality as there were back then, so everything is a lot more subtle,” said Gould. “You may think that it being easier to communicate would make it easier to organize, but I just think that there are so many ‘organizations,’ that you are not unifying a whole mass of people for one cause.”

During the question-and-answer session, topics such as Voter ID laws, the importance and cost of education and complacency among this generation arose.

Kinshasa Brown-Perry, a GFS parent, said that in terms of complacency, it is up to the parents to inform the children what they should be fighting for in order to better themselves.

“[They should] know that the odds are stacked against them, but if you try to do better and try to educate yourself, then you can survive and even do better and your quality-of-life could be better,” said Brown-Perry.

Former SNCC members Michael Simmons, Debbie Bell and Ed Nakawatase were in attendance. Nakawatase extended the invitation to Bond on behalf of the Racial Justice Club Committee.

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