In 1970, America’s failures to enforce civil rights had once again come into focus. A new generation of Black leaders emerged, which included Julian Bond, a Georgia state representative who had made a name for himself by co-founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960. It must have felt like a coup for the brand-new Edina Human Rights Commission when they managed to book the boyish-looking 30-year-old to be the keynote speaker for an ambitious Human Relations Week that included an exhibit in Southdale’s garden court. Bond also spoke to a Greater Edina Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Hopkins House restaurant.
On the morning of Monday, Oct. 12, an estimated 3000 Edinans gathered in the high school gymnasium to hear Julian Bond speak, according to an article by Anne Gillespie, a Minneapolis Star reporter. Bond, discussing the Vietnam War and the unequal sacrifices of Black Americans, noted that they are “first in war, last in peace and seldom in the hearts of their countrymen.”
He also said, “(T)he average black American is still worse off than the white….The roots of the problem are deep in the fabric of the country….It started with that most basic and evil kind of prejudice – that property is more important than people.”
The article said Bond compared the Nixon administration’s slowdown in enforcing school integration and hesitation to back voting rights for Black Americans with the Hayes administration, which ended reconstruction in the southern states.
Bond appealed for help in advancing integration and civil rights in the article: “You can help solve it, but not if you’re so worried about crime that you put bars over your windows and your heart; not if you think if black people move into your neighborhood, it will go down in value; not if you don’t get as excited over the killing of blacks as you do over Kent State.”
Minneapolis Tribune reporter Dan Wascoe, Jr. painted a different picture. His article said Bond told Edina students:
“(T)hey were living in a white enclave” and told the men and women at the luncheon that it must be ‘extremely comfortable’ and ‘a little boring’ to live in Edina because its residents must hear ‘the same conversation at every cocktail party.’” The article also said, “It was a soft-spoken Bond, gently needling his audiences. And when they crowded around afterward to take pictures and request autographs, his little Mona Lisa smile made it hard to tell whether he was greeting, mocking or tolerating them.”
Wascoe reported that during his speeches, “just when his mostly white liberal audiences may have begun settling back, thinking they’d heard it all before and agreed, Bond would stick in the needle. He told the students they ‘cannot afford the luxury of Woodstock...Each of us has the ability to do something’ to fight poverty and racism.” Later, Bond told the adults, “‘The oppressed people of the world ought not permit peace in the world until they get power or until they’re destroyed’ by those wielding power.” The article reported that when Bond was asked whether he could imagine himself using a gun and killing a white man, “he said he thought he could. And even though he tempered his remarks later, saying he opposed violence on both moral and political grounds, he obviously impressed his audience.”
Wascoe’s headline was “Bond Characterizes Edina as ‘a Little Boring.’”
A letter to the editor from Roger F. Heegaard said:
Wascoe’s headline “could be interpreted by readers as a slur by Bond.” The letter writer noted that Bond’s answer was in response to someone who stated Edinans are alike, to which “Bond indicated that he wondered whether that would be a little boring.” The letter also noted that both of Bond’s speeches noted a need to work “within the system to eliminate the injustices that cause violence. ...on several occasions he sounded a good deal more like a preacher than a politician.”
The letter said Bond received a standing ovations from students at Edina High School and those at the Chamber luncheon.
The standing ovation at the high school was confirmed by an article in the suburban Sun newspaper. The same article noted, “Bond predicted that the most significant issue in 1972 would be crime and lawlessness. He said politicians would raise things like the spectre of a rapist poised outside a window.”
As the League of Women Voters Edina works to eliminate discrimination and systemic racism in our community, Bond’s words continue to resonate.
Bond died in 2015.
Editor’s note: A longer version of this column by Bremer was included in a League of Women Voters Edina’s newsletter, representing the views of the organization’s Racial Justice Action Committee.
Chris Bremer, who serves on the Racial Justice Action Committee for the League of Women Voters Edina, is a racial equity advocate in Edina, having served on a subcommittee for the city’s Race and Equity Task Force and is active with the Anti-Racism Collective.