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I attended a lecture entitled the Broken Promise of Brown which was given by Julian Bond. This took place at Smith Memorial Hall on April 2 at 7:30 p.m. As I entered the building and made my way to the main entrance of the auditorium, I noticed that this CAS/MillerComm lecture was more formal than the usual CAS/MillerComm lectures. CAS/MillerComm was the sponsor of this event and also sponsors an entire lecture series free to the public. As I entered the auditorium there were a cameraman and interviewer asking people as they walked in what they knew about the Brown vs. Board decision. Or at least that was one of the questions I overheard as I snuck past them in to the auditorium.
As I walked down the aisle I wanted to try to get good a seat near the front. I made it all the way to the fourth row and asked some old white ladies if the seat on the end was taken. It was, but the fourth seat from the aisle was not. So I squeezed past them and sat down. At this time I opened my notebook and began taking notes on some of my observations. As I looked around, I noticed that most of the people at this particular lecture were black or white. And it seemed that there was a good mix of older students, middle aged people and older folks, all seemingly either black or white. Most of the older folks sat in the front, probably for sight reasons, and most of the older students sat in the back, probably just to attend the lecture and leave.
As I was sitting waiting for the lecture to begin I looked at some of those around me. I sat on the left side of the auditorium in the fourth row, fourth seat. To my immediate right were two white old ladies and one white old man. To my left were an open seat and then sat three black men clad in black suits, most likely in their later twenties. In front of me, were three black women in what appeared to be their thirties, how accurate my gauge of age is I am not too sure, and also a younger black man.
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The lecture had still not begun so I decided to ask the elderly lady on my right why she had decided to come out to this event. She said she was interested in the civil rights movement for a long time. And that she was also involved in the NAACP when she was younger. She told me that she saw Thurgood Marshall speak once when she was younger. In addition to all the information she gave me about her life, she also recommended that I go rent the movie Separate but Equal. Before we could talk more our conversation ended with the beginning of the introductions for Julian Bond.
The first person to give an introduction I did not listen very closely to because it was about the origin of the CAS/MillerComm lecture series, which I have heard before from my previous visits to the CAS/MillerComm lectures. I was sitting in my chair and was thinking about how this particular lecture reminded me of being in a church when I was younger. I could not help compare my present situation to religion due to my recent obsession with it. It felt like a catholic church from when I visited my grandparents over holidays and we all went to church together. The design of this auditorium was similar to the church my grandparents went to. It was a rectangular shaped auditorium with a row between two sections of seats and a stage, almost like an altar in the front. Even the plants on the center stage, which reminded me of poinsettias around Christmas time at church kept me in this fantasy. I also overheard the man behind me tell his daughter to sit up and stay awake, a tradition in church I was all too much accustomed to when I was younger. This comparison to my grandparents’ church was also fortified when I noticed some people standing in the back of the room at the start of the lecture, as if they all had to go to church on Christmas day for Christmas mass. Plus I was sitting next to older folks which reminded me of my grandparents, especially the old lady next to me who reminded me of my grandma more than anyone. Even most of the people in the auditorium dressed up to hear Julian Bond’s sermon, just as they would when they would attend mass. Yet at the same time, I was reminded of what a southern black church might be like. Due to the fact that half of the people at this lecture were black, which I could not throw out of my comparison, since at my grandparents’ church there were mainly only white people. The larger black lady with shorter black hair directly in front of me, dressed in a black dress with white poke-a-dots and gold earrings, said “Amen” to one of the statements Julian Bond gave later on in the lecture. It was almost as if my imagination translated her from a southern black church to this lecture to sit right in front of me. So I was stuck between comparing my situation to two different churches. The only thing I thought was missing was a choir in the room but the audience would have to suffice.
Next the Chancellor began introducing Julian Bond. She started describing his life when he was younger and some of the things he has accomplished in his days. She talked about Julian’s days as a student at Morehouse College, including his involvement in certain groups and getting other people to vote. She even noted how he left the college when he had one semester of classes left before he graduated. But a few years later he returned to finish his Bachelor’s degree in English. Julian Bond is currently a professor of history at the University of Virginia and current chairmen of the NAACP.
When Julian Bond took to the stage a thunderous applause broke out with many camera flashes, similar to an event that would take place only once in history and would need to be remembered. He began by talking about other great people in the crowd having to do with black civil rights, and then talked about his relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King and added some jokes the crowd enjoyed. He also gave a brief overview of the history of the civil rights movement and talked about his genealogy from his great-great-grandfather’s days of slavery up to himself. Next Julian Bond moved into talking about how the evolution of segregation in schools changed over time, and how there is still a problem today. The lecture ended with a standing ovation and at this time my presence was noted by Mr. Gardner Rogers and thus began the question and answer section of the night.
There were sixteen people who went up to the microphones to ask questions, most of which did not interest me very much except for two of them. The first person to grab my attention was a woman, probably in her twenties, who taught in the Chicago Public Schools. She asked how and why the black church was not supplementing the public schools, or something close to that. She said that the schools are poor and are not giving to the children what their parents think they should. Julian responded by saying that if she wanted to try and implement the church within the school system, that she should just teach a class on Saturdays about whatever the black church wanted to teach. A few questioners later, the second person to spark my interest came to the microphone. He was a black man somewhere in his twenties who had just served time at some type of institution. His question for Julian Bond was why he had to wait until he was in jail to learn about black history and famous figures in the civil rights movements instead of learning about it when he was in school. He was concerned because he had a child growing up and going to school and wanted his child to get the education he got in jail. Julian told him that he should get other parents who are equally concerned, and have them make their presence known at the school board meeting to try and get some of the things that are taught revised. Out of all of the questioners, it was what this man said that was the most powerful. I think mostly because of his concern in the matter, and almost a sense of despair in his desire to ask an expert in the field on what he should do. All of the questioners were a good representation of the crowd, about half black and half white, and half male and half female. At this time I assumed that the majority of people at this lecture were either scholars in the subject, or other people who have some interest/tie to the civil rights movement. These people asked a diversity of questions and the night ended with a powerful statement by Julian Bond. He said that when he was younger people used to sing “America the Beautiful” on the radio, and one of the singers was Ray Charles, who never saw the beauty of America, but it was an American dream he knew was out there.
At this time the majority of people filed out through the back of the room, while some stayed and shook Julian’s hand and stayed to talk to him. I stayed and talked to the old lady who sat next to me just a little longer as she put on her jacket. When she talked to one of her friends I could see her almost break out into tears of joy after what she had heard. She asked if I had enough notes and I told her what I had would suffice. I asked her what she thought of Julian’s lecture and she said it was wonderful, and that he was a great speaker. I shook her hand and exited the auditorium.
The lobby was filled with a great commotion even when most of the people had already left. What at first seemed like it could be a dry lecture, turned out to be a happy occasion for most people. It was at this time, when I was leaving, when I felt like this lecture was more like an awards ceremony honoring Julian Bond as the personified form of civil rights and everything it has accomplished, rather than just a lecture. The lobby was filled with mostly all blacks at this time and they were all talking and all had smiles on their faces. They all seemed to enjoy the event, and with that thought, I exited the building.