AUSTIN-Civil Rights elders Georgia Congressman John Lewis, former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond and Former Congressman and U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young shared their recollections of movement history, insights and visions for the future at the 50th Anniversary Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library.
The three legends looked back, gave their views from the frontline of the movement and explained their roles forging it. They also measured how civil rights is being received in America today and examined and explored the civil rights issues of the 21st Century.
One of the first things shared a diverse set of reasons that set the tone was their motivation to enter the movement.
Lewis said he got involved in civil rights because of life growing up in Troy, Alabama and parents who told him that “times are the way they are” and that he should “not get in the way and not get into trouble.”
Lewis said after being denied a library card because it was a Whites-only library, he decided he would be involved with making a change.
“Sometimes you gotta find a way to get in the way,” Lewis said. “Sometimes you need to make some noise.”
Lewis said his inroads into civil rights was driven by meeting Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr in 1957 and 1958.
“It changed my life,” Lewis said. “I have not looked back since and worked to influence ways of peach, love and nonviolence.”
He also studied with Jim Lawson on Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings and the principles of non-violence.
Young, grew up in a neighborhood surrounded by an Irish grocer, a Whites-only bar and the Nazi Party
and because of his skin color faced a tough life growing up in a segregates school.
“I grew up in an environment that day-to-day was a civil rights movement,” he said. “My father told me that it was a sickness and not to get upset or lose my temper because doing so I lose. He taught me to try to help make a difference.”
That set Young on a path that would lead him later to become the right hand man and confidant of Martin Luther King Jr.
Bond found his way into the movement after he got into college at Morehouse College and participated in a sit-in with about 15 people from five Black colleges at a local cafe near campus that got him arrested.
“I took a stand that I was spending money and paying my taxes,” he said. “It was the first time in my life I got arrested and went to jail. Some (Blacks) were in fear, but others appreciated the fact that we did.”
After being introduced to eye opening racism America in the 1950s and 60s that demonstrated that it was not open to equality, the men found themselves in the whirlwind of the movement not knowing whether at the end of the storm whether they would live or die.
Lewis, Young and Bond said a combination of factors drove the move to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – some of which included the power sit-ins in major cities, “Bloody Sunday” in Selma and the killing of Megar Evers in Mississippi and the bombing and burning of churches in the South and the activism of thousands of young students who participated in Freedom Rides across the South.
However, the greatest show of power came with the combined solidarity of Blacks and some Whites, labor groups and religious groups coming together with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the historic March on Washington.
“It was the finest hour of the Civil Rights Movement,” Young said. “It was crucial in shaping the response and set the stage for it to be a multicultural, multinational movement.”
The men made notable remarks about the contributions of African-American women to the civil rights movement.
Some of the great women mentioned that given credit for turning the movement on its ear were several in Black history who are rarely mentioned as prime movers of the movement.
Some of those women include Ella Baker, Dorothy Irene Height, Fannie Lou Hamer, Constance Baker Motley and others who King and other pastors did not take leadership roles because of their religious beliefs.
“There were tensions over roles,” he said. “It was a situation where there was some male chavenism. Pastors tried to treat things like it was their own churches,” Lewis said. “If it were not for women, there would not have been a civil rights movement.”
Bond, Lewis and Young agreed that the contribution of woman must never by dismissed, disrespected or forgotten.
“We were all in it together,” Lewis said. “There was no looking back, no turning back and that is why we continued to push until it was done.”