Civil rights leader Julian Bond, who participated in the March on Washington 50 years ago and is a chairman emeritus of the NAACP, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that Republican-enacted voter-identification laws are rolling back voting rights for blacks and other minorities that the late Martin Luther King Jr. fought so hard to achieve.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We’re here with one of America’s civil rights pioneers, Julian Bond. Julian, 50 years ago, you were here for Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Did you know then that you were - you were at one of the most historic moments and speeches in American history?
JULIAN BOND: I don’t think the people who drove from Atlanta with me up here had any idea that this was going to be what it turned out to be. We knew this was important. We knew there were hundreds of thousands of people here. We had no idea how many, until the newspapers told us the next day. But we had some inkling this was going to be a big deal.
HUNT: So it also was different than some expected. First of all, it wasn’t just a black march on Washington. It was a very interracial crowd.
HUNT: There was a lot of apprehension beforehand.
BOND: Enormous apprehension. The government of the District of Columbia at the time took - went to extraordinary ways to make sure nothing happened. They expected riots. They expected mayhem. They turned out the Army. They turned out the Navy. They turned out - in five of the military bases surrounding Washington, they had the troops on alert. They canceled elective surgery in D.C. They -
HUNT: And then it went off without a -
BOND: Not a hitch. As I understand it, two people were arrested that day, for rather minor things.
HUNT: August 28, 1963, what effect did that day, did that seat, did that moment have on the turbulent and historic ensuing years?
BOND: Well, I think for the people who came here and who heard Dr. King firsthand and who experienced the whole day, it was a great lift for them. And they felt, yes, what we’re doing in the movement is right. We’re going to keep on it. We’re going to keep on this path.
But I think for the larger countries that heard Dr. King, 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. And it was an explanation for that for what has been going on.
HUNT: So it set the predicate for the civil rights bills to pass and other things -
BOND: Absolutely. It said to the nation: This is why these people are doing this thing. Look at them. They’re white people; they’re black people. This is an American thing. And it’s something you ought to be involved with.
HUNT: Fifty years later, how much of Dr. King’s dream has been realized? And what is left?
BOND: Well, it’s sort of part yes and part no. Some of it is realized; some of it’s not. If you look at the laws prohibiting racial discrimination, they’re in place and they’re not likely to go away. If you look at the voting-rights provisions, which we know the Supreme Court just gutted a couple of months ago, that’s a real downer. But it’s sort of a half-full, half-empty way to look at what happens from those days to now.
HUNT: You knew Dr. King. What do you think he would think about the first African-American president? And how would he assess Barack Obama’s performance?
BOND: I think he’d be tremendously overjoyed that Obama is president and a president who was re-elected. I think he’d even be happier with that than just the fact he was elected in the first time. I think he’d have some mild disappointments with his performance, not because of things he’s not done, but things he’s not been able to do, because of the intransigence of the Congress. So I think it’d be, again, I love what he’s doing, I wish he’d do more.
HUNT: Well, there are those who say he - he hesitates, except in moments like Trayvon Martin, from talking about racial issues. Is that a fair - is that a fair rap?
BOND: I think it’s a fair rap. But I also think he’s constrained by conditions. And the country doesn’t want, I think, race to be talked about a great deal, and so he’s sensitive to that.
HUNT: But can you deal with the racial issues that still remain without talking about them?
BOND: No, you can’t. You have to talk about it. And you have to talk about it in an effective way, as he - he does. He -
HUNT: When he does do it.
BOND: - yes, he does very well. 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.
HUNT: He is going to speak next Wednesday at this great site. What would you like to hear Barack Obama say on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s speech?
BOND: I’d like to hear him say that the job is not done, that though some things have been achieved, 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. So I think he’d say, again, it’s a half-full, half-empty picture.
HUNT: Speaking of things that have changed, I was reading the speeches from 50 years ago, and one of your predecessors as the head of the NAACP, Roy Wilkins, that day - this was in 1963, middle of - you know, the South was still in racial turmoil - he singled out for praise the governor of North Carolina, Terry Sanford. It’s unlikely we’ll hear that next Wednesday.
BOND: Yes, North Carolina has become the new Mississippi. 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. It’s regrettable.
HUNT: And what - what places do you see that are making progress, really? I mean, North Carolina is you say the new Mississippi. How’s Mississippi doing? Or how are other places doing?
BOND: Mississippi is doing better than it was back then. But, you know, you can’t say anybody’s doing a great, great job. A lot of states have passed these voting laws which are just outlandish, and they suspect that there’s a level of fraud going on in the country which no one can see. No one knows anything (inaudible) about. So it’s -
HUNT: Do you think they’re targeted at black voters?
BOND: Absolutely. There’s no doubt they are. You can’t imagine that they’re targeted at anybody else. Black voters, Hispanic voters, elderly voters, the people least likely to have voter ID, those are the targets for these - the laws. And these are people who are most likely to vote for the Democratic Party.
HUNT: Yeah. You know, we in the media love to focus on leaders and who speaks for this group. And I know we exaggerate it always, whether it’s African-Americans or Latinos or gays. But with that caveat, who are a couple of more important voices today - after the president, of course - who speaks for African-American causes?
BOND: Well, I’m partial. I think Benjamin Jealous of the NAACP is a bright new voice and young guy, Rhodes Scholar, who speaks not only for the NAACP, I think he speaks for Americans who are worried about the direction our country’s taking. And there are many, many others, too numerous to mention, but they are out there, and we’re going to hear some of them when they gather at this podium in the future.
HUNT: Are you going to be emotional next Wednesday when you come back here?
BOND: Oh, I’m sure so. I’m sure so. I’ll see old friends. I’ll see people I haven’t seen in a long time. It’ll be great.
HUNT: Well, it’ll be an extraordinary moment. And you were only 23 years old then, and I guess you’re only about 40 or 50 now, since you haven’t aged at all.
BOND: Exactly right. Exactly right.
HUNT: Julian Bond, thank you so much.
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