30 or so years ago, a college friend insisted I come with him to hear Julian Bond speak. I remember nothing of what Bond said, only how inspired he was by Bond and that he said he wished someone would collect Bond’s speeches in one place. And now Michael G. Long has.
I don’t enough about Bond’s biography to comment on whether this is an accurate representation of his work or whether the introductions to each piece are without bias. I do know these are the words of a passionate and persuasive man. His talks on issues ranging from the failures of Jimmy Carter to the necessity of counting LGBTQ+ rights as civil rights are pointed and inspiring. It was sad to hear about his conflict with John Lewis, and troubling to hear about one accusation about his personal life.
It can be challenging to read a collection like this because of the possibilities for repetition and excessive overlap, but Long has edited it well. Bond does seem to position himself as a guardian of the breadth of Martin Luther King’s legacy, making sure people remember him also as opposed to the Vietnam War and in favor of reparations. Given that these points do not yet seem to have settled into the mass consciousness, the repetition is probably wise.
While it is heartening to see Bond’s worldview expand as he aged, the momentum of this book suggests that he becomes something of a man who is trying to protect his own legacy, to justify his life and the way he lived it. The message doesn’t change; it expands. But his sense of the means to achieve those goals stagnates, a criticism I know that is sometimes leveled at the NAACP, an organization that earned and retained his loyalty. While his insistence on dissent stands the test of time, his apparent unwillingness to expand his definition of the forms that dissent could take, is limited. Having fought for blacks to earn the right to vote, he wants people to protect and exercise it. Unfortunately, those battles continued throughout Bond’s lifetime and continue to this day. But voting and lawsuits, we see more clearly every day, can not be the only means of dissent.
I am grateful for City Lights and Michael G. Long for putting this together. It’s long past time for us to welcome more stories of Civil Rights leaders into the fold. I know it complicates things for some to consider the likes of Bayard Rustin and Julian Bond, just as it complicates things for some to consider King as someone more than the guy who gave the “I Have a Dream” speech. But the battle for Civil Rights in the 1960s was more complex than it is often presented and, as Bond does make clear, it’s far from over.
Charles Ellenbogen is the author of the teaching memoir, THIS ISN’T THE MOVIES: 25 YEARS IN THE CLASSROOM, and teaches high school English in Cleveland, Ohio. He lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio with Kirsten, his wife, Zoe, their daughter, Ezra, their son, Lincoln, their dog, and Chocolate Scales, their snake.