Civil Rights Movement

“I Don’t Mind Standing a Little Longer”: Remembering Julian Bond through Poetry

Yesterday, long-time civil rights organizer and social justice warrior Julian Bond passed away at the age of 75. His legacy reads like a map of the African American civil rights struggle in the US: from co-founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Poverty Law Center, to sitting 20 years in the Georgia State Legislature and being elected Board Chairman of the NAACP. Some very moving statements and retrospectives have been making the rounds, including from President Obama, who said that Julian Bond “helped change this country for the better. And what better way to be remembered than that.”

Here at Cultural Organizing we would like to remember another piece of Julian Bond’s legacy — his poetry. Bond was an English major at Moorehouse, where he co-founded the literary magazine the Pegasus. Along with his many essays on race and politics, Bond’s early poetry has appeared in a number of anthologies and publications. These poems speak to Bond’s love of Black culture, his understanding of racial oppression, his commitment to the long, difficult work of social change, and his beauty as a person. Below are four of his most well-known poems.

Rest in Power, Julian Bond.

 

I TOO, HEAR AMERICA SINGING

This poem was written as a response to Walt Whitman’s, I Hear America Singing, and resonates with the language and spirit of Langston Hughes’, I Too (also likely a response to Whitman). The poem was published in the first issue of SNCC’s newsletter, The Student Voice, in 1960.

I too, hear America singing
But from where I stand
I can only hear Little Richard
And Fats Domino.
But sometimes
I hear Ray Charles
Drowning in his own tears
or Bird
Relaxing at Camarillo
Or Horace Silver doodling,
Then I don’t mind standing
a little longer.

 

LOOK AT THAT GIRL

In the video below, Bond reads his most famous poem, a couplet he wrote in college.

Look at that girl shake that thing,
We can’t all be Martin Luther King.

 

THE BISHOP OF ATLANTA: RAY CHARLES

In this poem, Bond celebrates Ray Charles, whose combination of blues and gospel inspired many young African Americans in the emerging civil rights struggle. “Bond was quoted as saying about Charles, “He just seemed to me to be such a compelling personality. The voice, the music, the whole package taken together, pulled me in as it pulled in many, many others.”

The Bishop seduces the world with his voice
Sweat strangles mute eyes
As insinuations gush out through a hydrant of sorrow
Dream’s, a world never seen
Moulded on Africa’s anvil, tempered down home
Documented in cries and wails
Screaming to be ignored, crooning to be heard
Throbbing from the gutter
On Saturday night
Silver offering only
The Right Reverend’s back in town
Don’t it make you feel alright????????

 

HABANA

According to Bond, this poem was based on conversations he had during his first trip to Cuba as a nineteen-year-old college student at Morehouse, soon after the Cuban Revolution.

Soldiers fuzz the city in khaki confusion
Pincushioned with weapons
Seedy orange venders squeeze among the pulpy masses
Camera pregnant tourists click down the Prado
Lotería salesmen tear along the dotted line
Guitars pluck loafers into corner bars
Uniformed schoolgirls genuflect languorously
Climactic roaming rainbow dresses cling slowly
Punctuating neon orgasms in the mambo night
And above Fidel’s sandpaper voice,
“You want a girl, maybe?”

Profile: Project HIP-HOP

A civil rights education project transforms into the kind of creative movement organization that it was founded to inspire.

Founded in 1993, Project HIP-HOP (Highways Into the Past: History, Organizing, and Power) originally had little to do with the arts or culture of hip-hop. It began as an effort to engage young members of the hip-hop generation in the history of the Civil Rights Movement. In its first years, while still under the auspices of the Massachusetts ACLU, Project HIP-HOP (PHH) took high-school-aged youth on annual “civil rights tours” through the South, visiting important sites and meeting with movement veterans. The goal was to offer young people a “living history of the Civil Rights Movement,” and to inspire them to continue the struggle.

After a few annual tours of the South, and a powerful visit to South Africa, young people in PHH decided to take the organization in a new direction, expanding from simply learning about social justice movements to organizing for change. They also began to integrate their own youth cultural practices into the organization, including poetry, rap, djing, hip-hop dance, visual art, and more. Then, in 2001, PHH left the ACLU, formed an independent non-profit, and hired one of their former members as executive director.

Over the next decade PHH initiated a flurry of artistic and organizing projects, from open mics and hip-hop cyphers to campaigns against military recruitment and mass incarceration. But while connected by a political sensibility, the organizing and artistic practices remained, on the whole, separate. This changed when, starting in 2009, PHH began a strategic planning process to determine the future of the organization. Rather than be stretched in two directions, PHH decided to fully merge these two pieces of itself through the practice of cultural organizing.

PHH seeks to address not only the policies but also the ideologies that maintain systems of oppression. Internally, young people at PHH hone their self-understanding and political analysis by studying oppression and resistance across the centuries — from African history to the inner-workings of hip-hop culture and art. They draw on collective artistic practices like cyphers, along with shared rituals, to build community and construct an organizational counter-culture that challenges the racism and individualism of dominant US culture. And externally they bring their arsenal of street theater, flash mobs, poetry, and more — all based in a hip-hop aesthetic — to addressing issues affecting young people of color.

Recently, PHH has joined the Youth Way on the MBTA coalition. In partnership with other youth-led organizations like the Boston Area Youth Organizing Project and the Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project, they have been pushing the city to limit fair increases, create a new youth pass, and ensure affordable public transportation across Boston. Below is a short street theater piece from a March, 2012 rally at the transportation building.