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Julian Bond, executive chairman of the NAACP known for his dogged support for civil rights and his sharp tongue for those he believes attempt to abridge them, touched on numerous subjects dealing with the law and racial justice yesterday in Toledo.
Mr. Bond spoke to a nearly standing-room-only crowd at the University of Toledo college of law auditorium for its Torrance B. Greene Scholarship lecture.
Examining his own involvement with the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee, Georgia House of Representatives, and the NAACP, Mr. Bond described America as a country still much divided by race.
He talked about his own struggles with the law, filing a lawsuit after his election to the Georgia legislature when it refused to seat him because of his opposition to the Vietnam War.
Mr. Bond said he wanted to bring attention to little known stories, like the role of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and in eliminating Jim Crow laws. "People think Martin Luther King, Jr., integrated the South," Mr. Bond said. "But they don't know the story of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals."
He said the appellate court, which covers several southern states, consistently struck down laws meant to segregate blacks and whites in the 1960s.
Mr. Bond said affirmative action, which faces elimination in a possible ballot initiative in Michigan in 2006, has helped blacks and other minorities make up ground lost during slavery and segregation but disparities continue to exist.
"Some say that affirmative active leaves African-Americans with a [negative] stigma, as if there wasn't a stigma against African-Americans before affirmative action," he said. "Affirmative action is not under attack because it failed. It's under attack because it's working."
Mr. Bond said conservatives want to end race-based initiatives to hold on to the status quo of white privilege established over 400 years of slavery and another 60 years of Jim Crow laws.
He breezed through numerous statistics showing a deep divide among whites and African-Americans regarding the fairness of the justice system and other areas of American life.
Mr. Bond did not pull any punches when discussing his dislike of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his predecessor, John Ashcroft, describing the latter as "a cross between J. Edgar Hoover and Jerry Falwell."
Not everyone appreciates Mr. Bond's tough talk. His speech to the NAACP national convention in July prompted an investigation of the civil rights organization's nonprofit status by the Internal Revenue Service.
Mr. Bond said yesterday he believes the tactic was political and little has happened with the audit since it was announced by the IRS in October.
The NAACP refused to turn over documents to the IRS in January. Mr. Bond said the organization is awaiting a response from the IRS, which could ask a court to enforce its request.
"They launched an audit in the middle of the tax season," Mr. Bond said after his speech. "That is never done. This was prompted by two congressmen. I said from the beginning this move was purely political."
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