Lead Us Out of Violence

I was listening to an interview with Michael Julian Bond conducted while the late Rep. John R. Lewis (D-GA) lay in state at our nation’s capitol – the first African American to do so. Mr. Bond is the son of the late Julian Bond (1940-2015). The elder Mr. Bond is a contemporary of mine and best remembered for his activism in the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war movement of the Viet Nam era. The elder Mr. Bond was also a rival – often a bitter rival – of Mr. Lewis in the civil rights movement, particularly during the election for the congressional seat that Mr. Lewis won and held for over three decades, and Mr. Bond lost.

I want to spend a little time on the elder Mr. Bond because there are lessons to be learned from him that have not been repeated by the race hustlers like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and most certainly not by the thugs (white and black) who have taken to the streets to riot, loot, injure and occupy in places like Portland, Seattle, New York, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. Mr. Bond is noted as one of the co-founders of first the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and then the Southern Poverty Law Center (with Morris Dees).

As one of the founders of SNCC Mr. Bond was dedicated to the principles of nonviolence preached by Mohandas Ghandi and the Rev. Martin Luther King. SNCC, in its beginnings, was basically the youth corps of the Civil Rights movement and was populated by young black men and women who were, in short order, joined by young white men and women – many from the elite colleges in the South and the East. They staged rallies on college campuses, conducted sit-ins, marched with other civil rights groups in protest, and in confrontation with the police yielded peacefully, but unhelpfully, to arrests and removal. (I say unhelpfully because their response was to go limp and require the police to physically carry them off – not an easy task.) They helped in making progress – particularly with the adoption of the Voting Rights Act. And Mr. Bond became a media star.

It is virtually impossible for white people to experience the essence of racism in a manner at all like that of persons of color. Mr. Bond possessed the oratorical skills to make that experience “real” to the young white – particularly college educated – men and women. And the most relevant part of his messages related to the frustrations of the black community with the pace of change. Inadvertently, the Civil Rights movement had created a hunger and a belief that the systemic racism of the days of slavery followed by the days of Jim Crow would be washed away overnight.

And then SNCC changed. Internal competing forces sought to exercise control with militant blacks and black organizations more and more dominating the leadership. And violence was their answer. The routine execution of blacks and civil rights activists in the South and the refusal of Democrat officials to hold those responsible to account, provided justification for the militants to arm themselves and return violence for violence. At times those dedicated to non-violence were either forced out or sought common ground with others in yet another civil rights group. But the prevailing insistence on nonviolence was over. While I do not remember the elder Mr. Bond advocating violence he opted to condone it as justified by the frustrations of those who practiced it. (A comment often used by Democrats to avoid holding supporters accountable for violence.)

As Mr. Bond’s influence in SNCC ebbed, he turned his attention to the Southern Poverty Law Center with Morris Dees. The Center was extremely successful in pursuing civil right litigation and in bringing pressure on corporations and organizations who resisted attempts to embrace change to accommodate the new found equality won under civil rights legislation. The Center also brought focus on what it considered “hate groups” by annually listing them. As the Center’s success grew it attracted the attention the Democrat Party who was racing to abandon its racist domination of politics in the South. And soon, like so many other organizations (the National Association of Colored People, the National Organization of Women, the gay and lesbian coalitions, #MeToo, etc.) it became subsumed to the overall direction of the party. Once a beacon of identifying racist organizations, the Center now includes in their blacklists those who liberal Democrats oppose.

In both instances Mr. Bond lost control of the original intention of worthwhile organizations. In both instances it was largely due to his failure to forcefully remind those participating of their founding principles – nonviolence and civil rights. I still listen when an old speech by the elder Mr. Bond is played and I still remark on his ability to describe the nature of institutional racism and its effects on the black community. But it was Mr. Lewis, and not Mr. Bond, who resisted the calls to violence.

And now it is another generations turn. The younger Mr. Bond is a part of that generation and has demonstrated that he too is a gifted and articulate orator. The question then is will he join others to unyieldingly condemn the violence and demand that regular order be returned. Demand that the killing of young black men by the police AND other young black men cease and that the perpetrators be held accountable. Demand that neighborhoods, particularly poor neighborhoods victimized by gangs, drug dealers and pimps be made safe again. Demand that the vestiges of racism fostered by poor public schools and diminished expectations end. And demand that a climate of good jobs held by trained workers lead the way out of poverty and victimization.

“It is not the violence of a protest but rather the length and strength of the protest that affects change.”

The younger Mr. Bond described America as filé gumbo a diverse stew with strong and often conflicting spices – the very essence of what makes America great. We need more Mr. Bonds and less Ted Wheelers.