Julian Bond Visiting Campus, 1997-8
Authored by Ramona M. Davis ’21 in “Black Student Activism at Davidson College“
last updated 02.09.2021
In this photo, five members of the BSC are depicted escorting civil rights activist Julian Bond (far left) across campus. The photo is a visual representation of the African American Year in Review, the associated article written by Dean Jeffries for the 1998 Davidson Black Alumni Network Newsletter. Again, this image gives a positive contribution to the progress that black students are making. In the 1997-1998 academic year, having six black men walk openly and comfortably across campus is a huge statement. This same year, Julian Bond was appointed to be head of the NAACP. At first glance, I noticed the student in the middle, Wesley Hart ‘98, wearing a suit similar to Mr. Bond. Although he is a student, he is the centerpiece and draws the viewer’s eye more so than the famous activist. The background of this photo is quintessentially Davidson with the hints of brick buildings, pathways, and the greenery. However, if you replace the background, this photo could easily be a classic image from the Civil Rights Movement where Martin Luther King Jr. is caught walking with his associates.
Visually, this photo situates these Davidson students as not only part of the civil rights tradition, but potentially at its center. The battleground is no longer in Selma or Montgomery, but on Davidson’s campus. Some are smiling, and some have more serious faces, but there is a sense of pride that unites these men. They are all walking with a sense of comfort and confidence. When this photo was taken, there were only 87 total black students on campus, still below the target 100 put forth by Project 87’. The students in this photo also span multiple classes at Davidson, which gives this visit more institutional memory within the BSC. This photo with Julian Bond was likely chosen for the newsletter because of his prominence and prestige, which trickles down to the students and the Black community, thus putting forth a narrative of respectability around the college’s endeavors with black students.
This photo provides more questions than answers. Where are the black women? Why was Julian Bond invited to campus? What did students learn from his visit? The archive can’t answer these questions, but it is fair to assume that students wanted to learn from him. Although Africana Studies did not formally exist, his visit shows how students created opportunities for black study regardless. Julian Bond could educate from his experience as a prominent activist and provide students the ideological underpinning to his activism. Bond is unique as a civil rights leader because he believed that gay rights were civil rights (Long, 2020). Bond’s intersectional thinking on identity politics may disrupt a reading of traditional black masculinity that this image could perpetuate.