Petra Foundation - Novemeber 21, 1998
(Copyright 1998 by Julian Bond)
I am the grandson of a slave.
My grandfather's life began in 1853. Because he was born in Kentucky freedon did not come to him until the 13th Amendment became law in 1865.
His slave mother had given away as a wedding present to a bride, and when that bride became pregnant, her husband - my great-grandmother's owner - excerised his right to take his bride's slave as his mistress. The union produced two children, one of them my grandfather.
At 16, unable to read and write, my grandfather hitched his tuition - a steer - to a rope and walked 100 miles across Kentucky. Berea College took him in, and sixteen years later, he graduated and was asked to give the commencement speech.
He said then"
"The pessimist from his corner looks out on the world of
wickedness and sin, and blinded by all that is good or hopeful in the condition and progress of the human race, bewails the present state of affairs and predicts woeful things for the future"
"In every cloud he beholds a destructive storm, in every flash of lightening an omen of evil, and in every shadow that falls across his path a lurking foe."
"He forgets that the clouds also bring life and hope, that the lightening purifies the atmosphere, that shadow and darkness prepare for sunshine and growth, and that hardships and adversity nerve the race, as the individual, for greater efforts and grander victories."
"Greater efforts and grander victories." That was his generation's promise a century ago. that was the promise made by the geeration that won the great world war for democracy five decades ago. That was the promise made by those who brought democracy to America's darkest corners three and a half decades ago.
That is the promise we celebrate to
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