Saturday, August 22, 2015
Julian Bond and Louis Stokes both passed on this week. Both men were renegades in the civil rights movement, working for justice in the trenches in the South from the time they could board a bus and speak their truth. Yesterday I heard a story on the radio recounting a quote from President Obama to Louis Stokes shortly after he was elected President of the United States: "I am here because of you."
Louis Stokes founded the Congressional Black Caucus, but on the road to his political success he was blocked from votes by his white colleagues, and suffered the slings and arrows of being a non-white leader in this country. And not just in the segregated 1950's and 60's South--Stokes was turned away from his own Congressional parking garage by Capitol police in 1991. He also led the Congressional Committee that investigated the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Julian Bond co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center, and years before that he founded Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee. Bond was a leading student demonstrator at Morehouse College, and years later the leader of the NAACP. During his tenure at the NAACP, I saw him speak at the National Press Club while I was a law student and was captivated by his calm toughness and his tough calmness. I wanted to be like him, a tireless social justice advocate.
But I'll never be half the advocate that Bond and Stokes were. This world doesn't require me to do what they did. This world doesn't turn me away from my office parking garage because of the color of my skin. It doesn't beat me into submission on the streets I walk down or sit in or run through. My feelings of irony and angst about the deaths of these two remarkable advocates in one week are fine, but they are not really important. It's really just a somewhat embarrassing combination of white guilt and navel-gazing, if I am honest. But this post is about to end. And I ask you to remind yourself, as I strive to remind myself as I close, that we can in fact serve their legacy. We cannot walk in their shoes. But we can pick them up, dust them off, and carry those shoes as we walk our own walk for social justice. They paved a path with their pain and their triumph, and they expect us to keep it clear. Thanks for the trailblazing, gentlemen. We'll take it from here.