2008 McCarthy Lecture with Julian Bond - Transcript

October 29, 2008
Copyright 2008 by Julian Bond. Published with permission.

I am happy to be here for many reasons. First, I am an honorary Minnesotan by marriage. Indeed, my wife and I met at Macalester College, her alma mater, at a nationwide anti-war rally held on Moratorium Day to End the War in Vietnam on October 15, 1969. I was the principal speaker and when my plane was late, Minnesota’s Attorney General warmed up the audience. His name was Walter Mondale.

Next, I seconded the nomination of Eugene McCarthy for President at the 1968 Democratic Convention, and I welcome the chance to reminiscence about that Convention and other events of the 1960s.

And, what better time than on the eve of this momentous presidential election to honor and remember Eugene McCarthy’s belief in the possibility of democracy.

McCarthy himself said about his campaign for the presidency:

“We have proved that we are not afraid … to test American democracy." [1]

Sounds like something this year’s Democratic nominee might say. And there are other parallels: both courageously on the frontlines against an unpopular war of choice, both bringing a new generation into politics, and both believers in power from the bottom up.

McCarthy was a maverick before “maverick” got a bad name. In 1956, he organized a group of fellow liberals against the Southern Manifesto – a declaration denouncing the Supreme Court’s school desegregation ruling signed by 101 Southern congressmen.

The anti-Manifesto legislators, known as “McCarthy’s Mavericks,” more formally became the Democratic Study Group, which promoted a progressive legislative agenda.

Those were the days when women and men from both parties

and of all backgrounds worked together in the cause of civil rights.

Those were the days when good music was popular and popular music was good. Those were the days when the President picked the Supreme Court and not the other way around.

Those were the days when we had a war on poverty, not a war on the poor. Those were the days when patriotism was a reason for open-eyed disobedience, not an excuse for blind allegiance.

Those were the days when the news media really was “fair and balanced” and not just stenographers for the powerful.

But those were not “the good old days.”

In those days, “[t]he law, the courts, the schools, and almost every institution … favored whites. This was white supremacy.” [2]

Martin Luther King described it in 1962. He said then:

“When you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?” … when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly on tip-toe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’ – then,” King concluded, “you will understand.”

You would understand that most southern Blacks then could not vote. They attended inadequate, segregated schools, if they went at all, and many attended only a few months each year. Most could not hope to gain an education beyond high school. Most worked as farmers, or semi-skilled laborers. Few owned the land they farmed, or even the homes in which they lived.

This was a massive system of racial preferences – enforced by law and terror. It had one name and one aim – to crush the human development of a whole population. It began with slave-catching in Africa, and it continues on to the present day.

In addition to the war in Vietnam, Presidential candidate McCarthy regarded “the issue of civil rights and the needs of people who live in poverty and suppression in our great cities” as “the other most pressing problems” facing the country. [3]

McCarthy spoke of sitting “on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 when the great march on Washington occurred.” [4]

I was there, too, but we did not meet. As a representative of the youngest organization sponsoring the march, my task that day was handing out soft drinks to the celebrities. My most vivid recollection of the event is giving Sammy Davis Jr. a Coke and him saying, “Thanks, kid.”

I only knew Senator McCarthy in passing, but it was in passing through a memorable year for both of us and for our country – 1968. At the time, I was a Georgia state legislator.

During the midterm elections of 1966, “[t[he peace movement,” one observer has written, “was still very much outside the mainstream of American politics.” [5]

This was certainly my own experience. I ran for election to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965. A federal lawsuit had reapportioned the Georgia General Assembly, reconstituting a legislature where cows and horses had been better represented than human beings. [6]

Having created new, equal districts in urban Fulton County, the courts had ordered elections for a one-year term. As a successful candidate for one of those new seats, I was to take the oath of office on January 10, 1966.

A week earlier, Samuel Younge, Jr., a Tuskegee Institute student and a colleague in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was shot and killed while trying to use the segregated bathroom at a Tuskegee service station. He needed to use the bathroom more often than most because during his Navy service, including the Cuban blockade, he had lost a kidney, and the irony of his losing his life because of an illness suffered in service to his country prompted SNCC to issue an anti-war statement. [7]

We became the first organization to link the prosecution of the Vietnam War with the persecution of blacks at home.

SNCC issued a statement which accused the United States of deception “in its claims of concern for the freedom of colored peoples in such countries as the Dominican Republic, the Congo, South Africa, Rhodesia, and in the United States itself.”

“The United States is no respecter of persons or laws,” the statement said, “when such persons or laws run counter to its needs and desires.”

The statement created a sensation.

I was SNCC’s Communications Director, and when I appeared to take the oath of office on January 10, 1966, hostility from white legislators was nearly absolute. They prevented me from taking the oath, declared my seat vacant, and ordered another election to fill the vacancy.

I won that election and was expelled again; by the time I approached a third election, this time for a regular two-year term, I had filed suit in federal court.

Judge Griffin Bell, later to become Attorney General in the Carter Administration, wrote the majority decision for the three-judge court which refused to overturn the legislature’s decision to deny me the seat to which I had been twice elected.

This view was unanimously rejected by the United States Supreme Court, and a year after my first attempt, I became a member of the Georgia House of Representatives.

That same year – on November 30, 1967 - Eugene McCarthy announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, saying “the issue of Vietnam and other related issues should be raised in primaries,” of which there were only 15. Given our current nominating process, the one in place in 1968 seems archaic – and it was.

Indeed, Hubert Humphrey, McCarthy’s fellow Minnesotan, eventually would be nominated without having entered a single primary.

McCarthy understood then, as we do now, that the issue of war could not be separated from “other areas of United States responsibility.” [8]

In his announcement speech, he cited “the failure to appropriate adequate funds for the poverty program, for housing, for education and other national needs.”

Dr. King had made the same point, speaking of “the inescapable contradiction between war and social progress at home,” and noting that “military adventures must stultify domestic progress to insure the certainty of military success.” [9]

Today one day of the Iraq war costs $720 million dollars while 37 million Americans – and climbing – live in poverty. This represents about 13 percent of the population – the highest percentage in the developed world.

The next man to enter the 1968 presidential race was George Wallace, the “segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” Governor of Alabama, who was running as an independent.

Ironically Wallace announced on the same day – February 8th – that three black students were killed and 27 wounded at South Carolina State when state troopers fired on fleeing anti-segregation demonstrators. The event would become known as the Orangeburg Massacre.

In March Senator McCarthy lost the New Hampshire primary to President Lyndon Johnson but only by a narrow margin. Four days after that Senator Robert Kennedy reversed himself and decided he too would seek the Democratic nomination. He would be a candidate for only 82 days. About two weeks later President Johnson stunned the nation by announcing he would not run for reelection.

And just four days after that Martin Luther King, Jr. would be dead – gunned down in Memphis where he had gone to lead a garbage men’s strike. King has now been dead one year longer than he lived. His death prompted riots in more than 100 cities, including Chicago – the future site of the Democratic Convention – where nine blacks were killed and 20 blocks burned.

The tumult that marked 1968 continued when, on April 23rd, a Columbia University rally against defense contractors on campus and a plan to build a gymnasium in a Harlem park escalated. Students took three school officials hostage and occupied several campus buildings for days.

This would be but one of countless student-led protests throughout the United States and the world that year as campuses and city streets world-wide became battle grounds for social change.

All the movements of the decade – anti-war, civil rights, women’s rights, environmental – would lead to a questioning of authority and a repudiation of the status quo that I believe is the era’s greatest legacy.

Through the spring of 1968, I did not have a favorite presidential candidate. On June 5th, my close friend John Lewis called me from Robert Kennedy’s suite at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles minutes after Kennedy had won the California primary. John had been urging me to join the Kennedy campaign.

After I agreed, John said, “Turn on your TV. Bobby’s going downstairs to make his victory announcement.” I turned on the TV to hear Kennedy say, “It’s on to Chicago. Let’s win there!” But Kennedy wouldn’t make it to Chicago. Moments after his victory speech, Kennedy, too, became the victim of an assassin’s bullet,

His assassination probably changed history. Coming in the wake of President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 and on the heels of Martin Luther King’s murder, it undeniably cast a permanent pall over the ‘60s decade.

But the election – and the campaigns – had to go on.

A group of McCarthy supporters formed a commission, of which I was a member, to reform the nominating process.

Named after its chairman, Iowa Governor Harold Hughes, the Hughes Commission’s fights at the 1968 convention later provided inspiration and momentum for what was called the McGovern-Fraser Commission, named after its Co-Chairs – South Dakota Senator and 1972 Democratic Presidential nominee George McGovern and Minnesotan Don Fraser, former Mayor of Minneapolis and member of Congress.

The history of these party reform efforts is complex, meriting a speech of its own. Suffice it to say, for our purposes tonight, that it opened up the political process and helped create the modern presidential primary system. Because the Republicans felt compelled to emulate the Democrats’ new rules, it can be said that both Barack Obama and John McCain owe a debt to Eugene McCarthy.

My home state of Georgia is a perfect illustration of the way “boss” politics used to operate. In 1968, Georgia’s Democratic Convention delegates were hand-picked by the party chairman, James Grey, who in turn was hand-picked by the Governor, Lester Maddox. Maddox was a virulent racist famous – or infamous - for giving away axe-handles at his segregated restaurant, called the PickRick. He called them “PickRick toothpicks” and clearly intended them to be used by his all-white customers to keep black costumers away and used they were.

Party Chairman Grey picked a 64-person delegation with only three black members in a state with a nearly 25% black population. He also named delegates pledged to vote for third party candidate George Wallace, rather than for anyone running for President as a Democrat.

This did not seem to bother Chairman Grey whose devotion to the Democratic Party was suspect. He had voted for Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964.

It seemed clear that there was support in Georgia for a progressive alternate Democratic delegation. Humphrey supporters coalesced under the umbrella of an existing group called the Georgia Democratic Forum. When they convened in Macon on August 10, they were overwhelmed by the McCarthy forces. Seventy percent of the interracial challenge delegation elected in Macon was pledged to Eugene McCarthy. I was elected co-chair,

We did not expect to be seated at the convention. A small group of us, including Taylor Branch, who would become the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Martin Luther King, went to Chicago to appear before the Credentials Committee. We were stunned when the Committee voted to split Georgia’s votes, giving half to our delegation and half to the Georgia regulars.

The bad news was that with the convention days away, we had no hotel rooms, no money, and no way to bring our own 64-member delegation to Chicago.

Then we met Walter Turner, a man Taylor described as “straight out of ‘The Godfather’”.

We told him our sad story. “Why don’t you ask my boss,” Walter Turner suggested. “Who’s your boss?” we asked. “Elijah Muhammad”, he replied. Elijah Muhammad was the head of the Nation of Islam, commonly known as the Black Muslims. He forbid his followers to vote and called all white people “blue-eyed devils.” We could not imagine that he would help an integrated group come to a convention where voting was the main idea.

But Walter arranged for me to have dinner with Mr. Muhammad at his mansion in Hyde Park, where his successor, Louis Farrakhan lives today – and four blocks from where Barack Obama now lives, I left my “blue-eyed devil” friends behind.

In this patriarchic religion, the men and women ate at separate tables. After telling them who I was and why I had come, Mr. Muhammad asked whether he should help me.

“No,” said the women. “We don’t know this young man. He may give our money to the devils.” My heart sank.

Then he asked the men – some said yes, some said no. Mr. Muhammad turned to me and said, “Mr. Bond, in the Nation of Islam we listen to the women, but we do what the men say do.”

He gave me $3000 in $100 dollar bills. I never saw Elijah Muhammad again.

But I did see Walter Turner again. He took us to the Del Prado Hotel, where we’d already been told there were no rooms. Walter went off with the manager and came back with 30 rooms!

Mayor Richard Daley formally opened the Democratic Convention on Monday, August 26th. The night before, in the first “police riot” of a week’s violence police beat and clubbed protestors in Grant Park, across the street from McCarthy headquarters in the Hilton Hotel.

Six thousand Illinois National Guardsmen had been mobilized and were practicing anti-riot drills. Chicago police did the same.

On the convention’s opening night, 100 people violated an 11PM curfew in Lincoln Park, building a barricade to keep the police out. Police moved in with tear gas. Area residents were pulled from their porches and clubbed. More reporters were attacked this night than any other night of the week.

On Tuesday, August 27th, tear gas and club-swinging police cleared a 2,000 person crowd from Lincoln Park.

At Grant Park that afternoon, I joined Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) leaders Rennie Davis and Tom Hayden and Peter, Paul and Mary before a Grant Park crowd of 4,000.

On Wednesday, August 28th, I was nominated for Vice-President. I didn’t win.

That night the Convention also voted down a peace plank proposed for the party’s platform. Hearing the news by radio in Grant Park, a protestor tried to lower an American flag. Police charged the crowd and beat Rennie Davis into unconsciousness. As the rally ended, Dave Dellinger unsuccessfully tried to lead the crowd to the Amphitheater but police stopped it. National Guardsmen with .30 caliber machine guns and grenade launchers blocked cross streets. Demonstrators and bystanders were clubbed, beaten, maced and arrested. It lasted 17 minutes.

I seconded Senator McCarthy’s nomination for the Presidency, following the economist John Kenneth Galbreath who made the first nominating speech. My speech was written for me by Jeremy Larner. Revealing how long ago this was, not only was there no internet, there wasn’t even a FAX machine. Larner teletyped the speech to me backstage at the convention. Jeremy Larner was a novelist and screenwriter who won an Oscar in 1973 for The Candidate, starring Robert Redford, a movie about a Senate candidate who sells out his ideals to win a political race. It was one of Dan Quayle’s favorite movies.

McCarthy did not win the nomination, but as one author has written:

“His greatest triumph, perhaps, was that he seemed to embody all those old-fashioned virtues like courage, independence, self-reliance, and generosity of spirit that the country gave lip service to but which nobody really thought were much help as guides through the labyrinth of modern life.” [10]

On March 20, 1969, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner, and Bobby Seale were indicted for conspiracy, inciting to riot, and other charges related to the convention protests. When Black Panther Bobby Seale refused to be silenced, the judge ordered Seale bound and gagged in the courtroom and then removed from the trial and the Chicago Eight became the Chicago Seven. On February 18, 1970, all seven defendants were found not guilty of conspiracy; two were acquitted completely, while the remaining five were convicted of crossing state lines with the intent to incite a riot. All of the convictions were reversed in November, 1972.

Meanwhile, the Walker Commission, appointed to analyze the violence during the convention, concluded it was cause by a “police riot.”

Now 40 years have passed since 1968 – either a short time or a long time, depending on your point of view (and your age). A short time in the context of the freedom struggle, whose history is a never ending fight between right and wrong.

American slavery was a human horror of staggering dimensions, a crime against humanity. The profits it produced endowed great fortunes and enriched generations, and its dreadful legacy embraces all of us today.

As historian John Hope Franklin writes:

“All whites … benefited from American slavery. All blacks had no rights they could claim as their own. All whites, including the vast majority who owned no slaves, were not only encouraged but authorized to exercise dominion over all slaves, thereby adding to the system of control.

… Even poor whites benefited from the legal advantage they enjoyed over all blacks as well as from the psychological advantage of having a group beneath them.

Most living Americans do have a connection with slavery. They have inherited the preferential advantage, if they are white, or the loathsome disadvantage, if they are black, and these positions are virtually as alive today as they were in the 19th Century.” [11]

Two hundred and forty-six years of slavery were followed by 100 years of state-sanctioned discrimination, reinforced by public and private terror, ending only after a protracted struggle in 1965.

Thus it has been only a short 40 years or so that all black Americans have exercised the full rights of citizens, only 40 years since legal segregation was ended nationwide, only 40 years since the right to register and vote was universally guaranteed, only 40 years since the protections of the law and Constitution were officially extended to all.

The country seems proud, and rightly so, that a candidate campaigning in cities where he could not have stayed in a hotel 40 years ago has won his party’s nomination for the nation’s highest office.

But on the heels of Barack Obama’s nomination came the crude dissing of Michelle Obama as his “baby mamma. The suggestion from a Georgia Congressman that the Obamas are “uppity” and the continuing portrayal of Obama as Muslim, as Arab, as “other.”

Such is the complex rhythm of our nation’s racial dance.

We know that Obama’s electoral success – even if he should win the ultimate prize – will not signal an end to racial discrimination, but it marks the high point of an interracial movement that dates back to the Underground Railroad.

It was sixty years ago that Hubert Humphrey delivered his famous speech at the 1948 Democratic Convention,

That year, the convention platform committee had approved a weak civil rights plank. Humphrey, risking his political career, decided to go against his party and take the fight for a stronger civil rights plank to the convention floor. He told the delegates:

“[T]o those who say that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say … we are 172 years late. To those who say that this civil rights program is an infringement on states’ rights, I say this: the time has arrived in America … to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.”

Bill Moyers explained what happened next:

“When he finished a mighty roar went up from the crowd. Delegates stood and whooped and shouted and whistled; a forty-piece band played in the aisles, …. The platform committee was then overruled and Humphrey’s plank voted in by a wide margin.” [12]

One can only imagine how those delegates would have felt if they could have joined the delegates to this year’s Democratic Convention, when, on August 28 – exactly 45 years to the day after Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington – Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech as his party’s nominee for President of the United States.

Or how those who were beaten and who protested in Grant Park in 1968 will feel next week when Grant Park will be Barack Obama’s election night headquarters.

As historian Howard Zinn has written:

“Not to believe in the possibility of dramatic change is to forget that things have changed, not enough, of course, but enough to show what is possible. We have been surprised before in history. We can be surprised again. Indeed, we can do the surprising. …” [13]

One change we know is coming. The current administration is going. And not a moment too soon. As another Minnesotan, Thomas Friedman, put it recently, “We are a country in debt and in decline...” [14]

The rich sit at the table, and the rest of us are on the menu.

President Bush said he wanted to be a uniter. It took him seven years, but boy has he succeeded. He has united Americans around a desire for change. He has united Americans in our anxiety – about our economic well-being and our dreams deferred, about an unpopular war of choice and about America’s reduced standing in the world.

As Martin Luther King said of another unpopular war:

“In addition to the isolation of the people from the government, there is our national isolation in the world.”

Of course, the President never wanted to be a uniter. He thrived on Karl Rovian politics of divide and conquer and lived in a fairy tale world of ‘Mission Accomplished’. For the first six years of the Bush Administration, Republicans had the numbers and some Democrats wouldn’t take their own side in a fight.

When Democrats gained control of both houses of Congress after the 2006 mid-term elections, it was a portent of the desire for change now sweeping the nation.

Now an energized people must say yes to justice, yes to equality, yes to peace!

We need to redeem the promise of our government. We need to reclaim our democracy for all, not for oil, to put our mutual obligations over mutual funds and the public interest over private wealth.

Dr. King’s words speak to us now.

“Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.”

This Administration, too often with the complicity of the opposing party and the media, has brought us to the brink of disaster. We face increasing income inequality, a nationwide financial meltdown, and an energy crisis.

They made up in chutzpah what they lacked in wisdom. They let a great American city drown and they let an entire country down. Worst of all, they "led the nation to war on false pretenses.”

More than 4,000 American troops have been killed in Iraq and more than 30,000 wounded. There have been upwards of 100,000 causalities among Iraqi civilians.

Off the battlefield, what has been sacrificed, along with our treasure, has been our adherence to the rule of law.

From the Civil War to Vietnam, abuse of power has occurred in time of war. Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. During Vietnam, we had J. Edgar Hoover’s counter-intelligence program, called COINTELPRO. Using the perceived threat of communism as the excuse, the FBI tried to disrupt the civil rights movement and to smear Martin Luther King. They not only wanted him discredited, they wanted him dead, threatening him with the release of damaging information if he did not commit suicide.

We thought we had put a stop to these kinds of spies and lies, but that was before September 11. Before wiretapping without warrants. Before the abolition of habeas corpus rights for detainees. Before torture. Before the Justice Department this month extended the FBI’s surveillance powers.

There has been abuse of power elsewhere, too. After eight years of this Administration, we are going to need another Reconstruction – reconstruction of a government which has been purposefully dismantled, privatized and politicized.

We are encouraged that the 2008 primary campaign saw across-the-board increases in voter turnout. Blacks and youth increased their share of the Democratic primary electorate by 25 percent over 2004.

In 2004, 76 percent of Minnesota’s voters turned out at the polls, the highest turnout in the nation. Minnesota – you can do better than that this year!

You want to be known for something other than Representative Michele Bachmann. Recently, quoting from an article in Investor’s Business Daily, she blamed the financial crisis on black people because banks make loans “on the basis of race and little else.” [15]

She followed that up by pronouncing herself “very concerned that [Obama] may have anti-American views” and suggested that the media “take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out: Are they pro-America or anti-America?” [16]

She reminds me of another McCarthy.

But I digress.

A record 6.5 million voters younger than 30 voted in this year’s primaries and caucuses, becoming an influential bloc that leans progressive. National survey data document that each new generation is more tolerant than the one preceding it and that each generation has become increasingly more tolerant as it ages. Overall, nine in 10 whites say they would be comfortable with a black presidency. [17]

I believe these attitudes have everything to do with the successful civil rights movement and the work that the NAACP has waged for almost 100 years.

That work infuses every election, given the lasting importance of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but it has been especially evident this year. The Civil Rights Act of 1965 made discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity or religion illegal. Another act soon followed making discrimination based on age illegal. The major candidates in both side’s primaries this year included a black, a woman, an Hispanic, a Mormon, and a man, now his party’s nominee, who would be the oldest person elected to the presidency. And in a first for his party, he has chosen a woman for his running mate.

All these candidates – and the nation – owe a debt to what Taylor Branch has called “the modern founders of democracy," those who labored, unknown and unheralded, in the vineyards of civil rights.

But Senator Obama’s candidacy does not herald a post-civil rights America, any more than his victory next week will mean that race as an issue has been vanquished in America.

Race dictates where we live, how we live, and how long we live.

Almost every social indicator, from birth to death, reflects black-white disparities. Infant mortality rates are 146 percent higher for blacks; chances of imprisonment are 447 percent higher; rate of death from homicide 521 percent higher; lack of health insurance 42 percent more likely; the proportion with a college degree 60 percent lower. And the average white American will live 5 ½ years longer than the average black American.

In his speech following Hurricane Katrina, President Bush spoke of the “deep persistent poverty” which exists in our country. “That poverty”, he said, “has its roots in a history of racial discrimination.”

The truth is that race trumps class. As Michael Dyson has written, “[c]oncentrated poverty doesn’t victimize poor whites in the same way it victimizes poor blacks.” [18]

W. E. B. DuBois, one of the founders of the NAACP, was the first social scientist to link class to race. He understood then as we must now: “race never stands apart from economic realities.” [19]

Plutarch well before him warned that “an imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” Today we live in a nation where the top one percent has more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. And where black families’ median net worth is only 14.6 percent of white families’.

The fragility of middle class life for black Americans is illustrated by their downward mobility. Nearly half of blacks born into the middle class 40 years ago have descended into poverty or near poverty as adults compared to only 16 percent of whites.

Homeownership rates for blacks, already low, are sinking under the weight of the subprime mortgage crisis, which “stands to likely be the largest loss of African-American wealth that we have ever seen, wiping out a generation of home wealth building.” [20] Blacks are three times more likely to have subprime loans than whites, with such loans accounting for 55 percent of loans to blacks and only 17 percent of loans to whites.

This has not happened by accident. There is evidence that “[minority] neighborhoods were actually targeted – that lenders have gone after people whom they think are less sophisticated borrowers....” [21]

One study that analyzed almost 180,000 subprime loans found that borrowers of color were more than 30 percent more likely than white borrowers to receive a higher-rate loan, even after taking differences in creditworthiness into account. [22] Another study revealed that high-income blacks were three times more likely to receive a subprime mortgage than low-income white borrowers. [23]

Of course, discriminatory lending is not confined to the subprime market. And it doesn’t just victimize individuals; it affects entire families and communities.

Last July the NAACP filed a class action lawsuit against 17 of the nation’s largest lenders, alleging discriminatory lending practices. This July, we held a national “Day of Action” to demand that lenders eliminate discriminatory policies and practices and make amends for their past conduct.

All of this is occurring as we mark the 40th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Then, as now, we faced housing segregation that was the deliberate creation of official policies and practices of the United States.

Legislative changes alone cannot create an integrated, bias-free America. Today the typical white resident of a metropolitan area lives in a neighborhood that is 80 percent white, while the typical black resident’s neighborhood is 51% black.

And it is estimated that “[t]here are least four million acts of housing discrimination every year.” [24]

So we have much work to do.

Considering our history, the job we’ve done so far has been remarkable, no matter how long the journey has been, no matter how great the task that remains undone.

Recently I visited Berea College in Kentucky, opened by abolitionists as an integrated school in 1855. It was closed by the Civil War, but opened again in 1866 with 187 students – 96 blacks and 91 whites. It dared to provide a rare commodity in the former slave states – an education open to all – blacks and whites, women and men.

One of those early students was my grandfather, James Bond, born a slave, who at age 15, barely able to read and write, hitched his tuition – a steer – to a rope, and walked miles across Kentucky to enter Berea.

When my grandfather graduated from Berea, the college asked him to deliver the commencement address.

He said then:

“The pessimist from his corner looks out on the world of wickedness and sin, and blinded by all that is good or hopeful in the progress of the human race, bewails the present state of affairs and predicts woeful things for the future.”

“In every cloud he beholds a destructive storm, in every flash of lightning an omen of evil, and in every shadow that falls across his path a lurking foe.”

“He forgets that the clouds also bring life and hope, that lightning purifies the atmosphere, that shadow and darkness prepare for sunshine and growth, and that hardships and adversity nerve the race, as the individual, for greater efforts and grander victories.” [25]

“Greater efforts and grander victories”.

Senator McCarthy, I think, would have embraced my grandfather’s words and their sentiments. The Senator spoke of the report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders as “perhaps the most significant political document to be published in this country in this century.” [26]

The report, which examined the violence in the nation’s cities in the summer of 1967, concluded that “[o]ur nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal.” The cause, according to the report, was “white racism.”

McCarthy said the report was written with:

“honest optimism - the only kind we can accept, which comes when you see things to be as in fact they are, when you take an honest look at the situation, but having done that, you still proceed in the belief and in the hope that something and positive and constructive can be done about the circumstances.” [27]

“Greater efforts and grander victories.” That was the promise Eugene McCarthy made to us. And that is the promise we must seek to honor today.


[1] Eugene McCarthy, "The New Civil Rights", speech at Boston University (April 11, 1968).

[2] Franklin, John Hope & Alfred Moss, Jr., From Slavery to Freedom (12th ed.)

[3] Eugene McCarthy, “The New Civil Rights,” Speech at Boston University (April 11, 1968).

[4] Id.

[5] Arthur Herzog, McCarthy for President, p. 20, The Viking Press (1969).

[6] Toombs v. Fortson, 379 U.S. 621 (1965); Sanders v. Gray, 372 U.S. 368 (1963). Sanders eliminated Georgia’s county unit system; Toombs successfully challenged the malapportionment of the Georgia House and Senate.

[7] Forman, James, Sammy Younge, Jr.: The First Black Student to Die in the Black Liberation Movement, Grove Press, New York (1968).

[8] Eugene McCarthy, Declaration of Candidacy for the Democratic Nomination for President (November 30, 1967).

[9] Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Domestic Impact of the War in Vietnam” (January 11, 1967).

[10] Herzog at 293.

[11] John Hope Franklin, Letter to The Chronicle, Duke University student paper (May 2001).

[12] Bill Moyers, Moyers on Democracy

[13] Howard Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, Beacon Press (1994).

[14] Thomas Friedman, “Anxious in America,” The New York Times, p. 10 (June 29, 2008).

[15] Darryl Fears and Carol D. Leonnig, “Activists Angered By Blame for Crisis,” The Washington Post, p. A15 (October 3, 2008).

[16] The Washington Post, pp. A19 & A4 (October 4, 2008).

[17] Washington Post-ABC News Poll (June 12 – 15, 2008).

[18] Michael Eric Dyson, Come Hell or High Water, p. 145, Basic Civitas Books (2006).

[19] W. E. B. DuBois, The Philadelphia Negro, p. 394 (1899).

[20] National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), 2008 Fair Housing Trends Report, p. 24 (April 8, 2008).

[21] Shankar Vedantam, “Subprime Mortgages and Race: A Bit of Good News May Be Illusory,” The Washington Post, p. A2 (June 30, 2008).

[22] NFHA Report, id. at 22.

[23] Id.

[24] NFHA Report, id. at 12-13.

[25] “Commencement Address” by James Bond, Berea College Reporter (June 1892).

[26] Eugene McCarthy, “The New Civil Rights,” Speech at Boston University (April 11, 1968).

[27] McCarthy, Id.

Julian Bond

Julian Bond has been Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors since February 1998. He is a distinguished Professor in the School of Government at American University in Washington, DC, and a Professor in the Department of History at the University of Virginia.