Civil rights leader Julian Bond, who participated in the March on Washington 50 years ago, said Republican-enacted voter-identification laws are rolling back voting rights for blacks and other minorities that the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought so hard to achieve.
“You can’t imagine that they’re targeted at anybody else,” Bond said of the laws in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. Bond, now 73, was 23 when he stood on the Lincoln Memorial steps on Aug. 28, 1963, and heard King deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech, which President Barack Obama and others will commemorate next week.
“Black voters, Hispanic voters, elderly voters, the people least likely to have voter ID, those are the targets for the laws” Republicans are pushing onto the books, said Bond, who served 20 years in the Georgia legislature and is chairman emeritus of the NAACP.
Proponents of voter-ID laws say they’re needed to combat voter fraud, which Bond said “no one can see, no one knows anything about.”
Bond singled out North Carolina for criticism over its new rules for voters.
“North Carolina has become the new Mississippi,” Bond said, in a reference to one of the southern states where civil rights workers in the 1960s faced significant violence.
“They’ve just taken an enormous step backward in voting rights and a series of things because of the domination of Republicans in the House and the Senate and in the governor’s chair,” he said.
North Carolina, which hosted the 2012 Democratic National Convention, recently enacted a voter-ID law that curbs early voting, ends same-day registration and makes it harder for young people to register. “Mississippi is doing better,” Bond said.
Out of the 6.9 million votes cast in North Carolina last year, 121 ballots were forwarded to local prosecutors to see if there was anything fraudulent, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. The Justice Department under President George W. Bush spent five years looking for people impersonating other voters, the fraud that would be curbed by voter-ID laws, and failed to secure a single conviction, according to New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.
Bond was the second prominent African-American to criticize the North Carolina law this week. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell told the state’s annual forum of chief executives that the voter-ID law “immediately turns off a voting bloc the Republican Party needs.”
The state acted after the Supreme Court’s five-member Republican-appointed majority voted to overturn a provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that prevented several states and localities, mostly in the South, from changing voting laws without first getting federal approval.
Bond praised Obama, acknowledging that the first black U.S. president has been stymied by Congress. He said King himself would feel that, “I love what he’s doing; I wish he’d do more.”
Bond said he would like to see Obama speak out more about racial issues, though he’s under some constraints.
“You have to talk about it, talk about it in an effective way, as he does very well,” Bond said. “But I think he’s fearful of just saying it over and over and over again. He thinks that part of the people who elected him president don’t like that.”
He said Obama should say, “We ought to be proud of those things, but we ought to realize what’s not been done, and we ought to be on guard about the curtailment of our rights, which we can see in these voting rights laws that are being passed across the country to prohibit people from voting.”
As for the original King speech, Bond said that 50 years ago he had “some inkling this was going to be a big deal.”
He also recollected that U.S. armed forces were on alert to prevent expected rioting or other disturbances at the march, which never occurred.
What King achieved was telling the entire country what the civil rights movement was all about, Bond said.
“It was the first time they had heard a black person give a rationale for why the civil rights movement existed, why we march, why we protest, why we picket,” Bond said. “It said to the nation: This is why these people are doing this thing.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan D. Salant in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at email@example.com