James FormanLast week at Rosenthal Library Auditorium, civil rights leader Julian Bond was invited as distinguished guest speaker to celebrate the acquisition of The James Forman Library for the QC Civil Rights Archive.  James Forman was an executive secretary and active member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.  Julian Bond – who as a student at Morehouse College spearheaded protest action from the booths of Yates & Milton Drugstore in Atlanta, GA. – joined the SNCC as communications director, and among other things worked with photographer Danny Lyons to document the Movement.

Africana Studies Director Dr. Julmisse opened the evening with cogent and evocative remarks.   QC president Dr. Muykens introduced Mr. Bond, and did not buck any cliches about the campus-comedy dean, as he numerously referred to the James Forman collection as “papers,” when the acquisition is not Forman’s papers, but his personal library of books.  Forman’s papers are in the Library of Congress.  Not the gravest error, but a conspicuous one.  Archivists are up in arms over that crusty old dean.

James Forman’s son, James, Jr., spoke humbly and enthusiastically, and attested to the sublimating effect of Julian Bond as a speaker. And Julian was masterful.  He provoked, quipped, stated statistics with the narrative command with which he also deployed rhetorical tricks.  He looked back to the 1960s, when the movement was alive with change, and he was keen to the ravages going forward.   Summing up the old days with the new, he used a device the Greeks called Antanaclasis, noting that back then “good music was popular, and Popular Music was good.”  Julian must have seen the tribute to Aretha Franklin at last week’s Grammy Awards.
Julian Bond Saturday Night Live 1
Watch footage of Julian Bond’s remarks here.

Mr. Bond had the style of a seminal toastmaster, if the subject of the roast was Race in the United States.  Race was not about skin, but power.  Race trumps education, health care and war.  In James Forman’s autobiography, Making of Black Revolutionaries, Forman is passionate about reading and knowledge, and repulsed by his service in the Air Force, where institutional racism is the suppressor of the active life of the mind.

Julian Bond Saturday Night Live 2Julian made clear his own stance, dropping phrases about “right-wingers” and ‘Tea Baggers.”  Though he promotes the role of government in creating civic and social justice, he also founds his approach to government by the faith that government can be caused to change.  That it is by nature an organic body in flux, not a bedrock that refuses the drill of the people.  The setting is ripe for action, in a world where once “banks lent to people, instead of people lending to banks.”  Julian is both a veteran of the Atlanta Senate chambers and the stage of Saturday Night Live.  On SNL (which is available to watch on Netflix, season 2, episode 18, with Brick and Tom Waits as musical guests), Julian is more ready to play prime time than the Not Ready For Prime Time Players, and the skits skewer race and exploit white politics.  He opens the show on stage in a 3-piece suit, reciting a litany of his past accomplishments, and concludes that his appearance on the show was not based on his pedigree, but only because they wanted a “chocolate Easter bunny.” It’s archival Julian Bond Saturday Night Live 4evidence that Saturday Night Live was once counterculture.

This semester, Campus Whits will be working to accession James Forman’s Library, 75 boxes of books on Southern history, NVA pamphlets, true-crime Mafia paperbacks, subscriptions to Marxist journals, handouts on health, and FBI reports.  James Forman was enlightened and pugnacious and determined, and his revolution, unlike much freedom fighting, was nonviolent.  As the event at Queens College Rosenthal Library came to end, a handful vets of the movement stood up and chanted “We Shall Overcome.”  It was the first time I’d heard it live.  Louis Armstrong has his own version.

Julian Bond