Tackling the Color Line in the 21st Century

Tuesday, July 8, 2014 - 8:31am
Tackling the Color Line in the 21st Century

Civil rights veteran Julian Bond on the guardianship of W.E.B. Du Bois in the efforts to move beyond the color line in the twenty-first century.

Commentary by:
Mariah Helgeson (@mariahism),  associate producer for On Being
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Julian Bond sings 'We Shall Overcome' at a Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library.

Credit: Ricardo Brazziell-Pool License: Getty Images.
"His prophesy about the color line resonated for me then as it does now, and the only difference between my reaction then and now is that now the color line is the problem not of the twentieth century but of the twenty-first century. I became active in the Civil Rights Movement when I was twenty years old, right around the same time I read Souls Although I can't say the book is what propelled me into the movement, it did coincide and remain as a reference for me. Not that it was something I thought about every day — Well, Du Bois said something about this — but just as a kind of distant reference. I didn't read anything else of his until much later on, and so The Souls of Black Folk was him for me. The book, vis-à-vis Du Bois, existed in my life in a sort of guardianship capacity.

At twenty years old, I wasn't thinking, I'm going to tackle the problem of the color line, but as the movement was bursting out around me, I was thinking that I was going to take the problem on in some way. I was going to take it on, other people around me were going to take it on, people before me had taken it on, and people after me would take it on — each and all, with no end in sight. It's an ongoing struggle. Even if racial discrimination disappeared tomorrow morning, there would still be work to be done, because you would then see as clearly as ever the divisions — economic, political, and otherwise — that race prejudice has caused. If racism were to end, society would still be maladjusted. As it does not appear that racism will end, however, you have to look at things over the long term and consider the progress on a continuum."

— Julian Bond, in Saving the Race: Conversations on Du Bois from a Collective Memoir of Souls

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Mariah Helgeson is an associate producer at On Being. She earned a degree in International Affairs with concentrations in the Middle East and Conflict Resolution from George Washington University. She grew up in Minnesota and was a program associate at the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network. When she’s not submerged in a good book she might be found laughing with her teenage sisters or playing chamber music.

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