The civil rights movement had many successes, but much needs to be done, says Julian Bond, former national chairman of the NAACP board.
Bond on Friday made a presentation entitled "The Road to Freedom: From Alabama to Obama" to a nearly full house in the College of Charleston's Physicians Memorial Auditorium. The Black History Month event was sponsored by the college's Office of Institutional Diversity.
"The task ahead of us is an enormous one," Bond said, "equal to or greater than the one already done."
Bond, 74, the grandson of a slave, has been on the forefront of social change since 1960. He founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, organized voting drives and sit-ins and served four terms in the Georgia House of Representatives and six in the Senate.
"Today, black men and women hold office and wield power in ways we never dreamed before," Bond said. But the wealth and power gaps between whites and people of color continue to grow.
"The rich have been at the banquet table, and the rest of us are on the menu," he said.
Black people were enslaved in this country for 246 years, he said. "That was followed by another 100 years of state-sanctioned discrimination. We are now asked to believe that five decades of half-hearted remedies and one black president" can wipe that out.
"We have work to do," Bond said. "None of it will be easy." The country needs a strong activist movement if we are going to expand civil rights.
One of the things people can do is reach out to national representatives and encourage them to strengthen the Voting Rights Act, he said. "The (U.S.) Supreme Court eviscerated it in June," he said.
Ajay Singh, a freshman at the college, said he found the presentation fascinating, and that it expanded his understanding of the civil rights movement. "My generation overlooks it sometimes," he said. "But what happened there ripples to my generation, and we take that for granted."
James Hampton, who is from Lincolnville, was one of many community members to attend the presentation. He brought a photograph of himself and Bond taken about 40 years ago at the Charleston Air Force Base, and asked Bond to sign it.
Bond's presentation is one of many events the college has held in recent years that are part of a larger effort to increase diversity on the downtown campus.
Bernard Powers, a history professor at the college, said presentations like the one Bond made "speak to the kind of attitude and environment we are trying to create at the college." The event brought in not just students, but the entire community, he said,
After the presentation, Bond said he didn't know any specific details about diversity at the College of Charleston or other South Carolina schools. But, he said, the most important thing about increasing diversity at any institution is adopting a welcoming pose. People of color "have to feel that if they come, they will be treated kindly."
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.