Julian Bond was not only a champion for civil rights, he was a champion for civil rights education and for honest scholarly discourse about race. During his career, he taught the history of the movement at several prestigious colleges and universities and contributed to both of Teaching Tolerance’s Teaching the Movement reports on the state of civil rights education in the United States.
Bond’s anecdotal classroom observations matched our empirical observations about the lack of civil rights content taught in America’s public schools. He said of his students,
None could tell me who George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama, was … They knew sanitized versions of the lives and struggles of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, but nothing of their real stories … [T]he stories of bravery and sacrifice in the movement for civil rights were absent from their memories and their high school curricula. “My teacher didn’t have time to get to it,” they told me. “The semester ended too soon.”
He also shared Teaching Tolerance’s concern for what shortchanging civil rights history instruction means for our democracy and our collective understanding of racial identity.
"An educated populace must be taught basics about American history. One of these basics is the civil rights movement, a nonviolent revolution as important as the first American Revolution. It is a history that continues to shape the America we all live in today."
Mr. Bond recently echoed these sentiments in a March 2015 address to students at Edgewood College when he said, “America is race.” We couldn’t agree more. These words go to the heart of Teaching Tolerance’s message, a message we try to help educators talk about in safe and pragmatic ways.
"America is a race. From its symbolism to its substance, from its founding by slaveholders to its rending by the Civil War."
We hope Mr. Bond would be proud of this issue of the magazine, in which we explore teaching about skin-color bias and discrimination in “What’s ‘Colorism’?” and challenge educators to “get real about race” in an excerpt from scholar Richard Milner’s new book, “Rac(e)ing to Class: Confronting Poverty and Race in Schools and Classrooms.” Similarly, our story on “Rewriting History—for the Better” looks at filling curricular gaps where traditionally marginalized people live, work and raise families—a cause we know he cared about deeply.
The cover story for this issue also tackles a topic that was dear to Mr. Bond’s heart: voting. He fought for voting rights as a young activist, and he stood up for potentially disenfranchised voters as an elected member of the Georgia House and Senate. Without a sound understanding of the voting rights struggle in this country, however, voting loses significance, as it has for many young people today. We hope “The Young and the Registered” spurs the kind of teaching, learning and action that Mr. Bond crusaded and sacrificed for throughout his career.
In his foreward to Teaching the Movement 2011, Mr. Bond quoted the late, great James Baldwin, who said, “History does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it with us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.” We hope this issue offers you tools and knowledge to help your students connect to the history they need to understand themselves, their peers and their world.
And we hope you will take a moment to talk to your students about the life and legacy of Julian Bond, a man who devoted his life to making all our lives better.