Civil Rights Movement Leaders in Conversation

Civil Rights Pioneers

Watch an engaging conversation about the Civil Rights Movement between three civil rights pioneers.  Representative John Lewis, Georgia 5th District; journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault; and Chairman Emeritus of the NAACP, Julian Bond, look back and ahead in a discussion moderated by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. In addition to providing an introduction to the speakers, Professor Gates gives background on the making of the series. The conversation is followed by a lively Q&A session with the audience.

This special series launch event for The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross took place October 9, 2013, at the National Press Club, Washington, DC.

Learn more about the speakers, below.


Julian Bond

From his college days as a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to his Chairmanship of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) (1998 – 2010), Julian Bond has been an active participant in the movements for civil rights, economic justice, and peace, and an aggressive spokesman for the disinherited.

As an activist who has faced jail for his convictions, as a veteran of more than twenty years of service in the Georgia General Assembly, as a writer, teacher, and lecturer, Bond has been on the cutting edge of social change since he was a college student leading sit-in demonstrations in Atlanta in 1960.

Horace Julian Bond was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in January 1940. Bond graduated from the George School, a co- educational Quaker school in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1957 and entered Morehouse College in Atlanta in September.

While still a Morehouse student, Bond was a founder in l960 of the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights (COAHR), the Atlanta University Center student civil rights organization that directed three years of non-violent anti-segregation protests that won integration of Atlanta’s movie theaters, lunch counters, and parks.  Bond was arrested for sitting-in at the then-segregated cafeteria at Atlanta City Hall.

He was one of several hundred students from across the South who helped to form SNCC on Easter Weekend, 1960, and shortly thereafter became SNCC’s Communications Director, heading the organization’s printing and publicity departments, editing the SNCC newsletter, The Student Voice, and working in voter registration drives in rural Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

Bond was first elected in 1965 to a one-year term in the Georgia House of Representatives in a special election following court-ordered reapportionment of the legislature, but members of the House voted not to seat him because of his outspoken opposition to the war in Vietnam.

Bond won a second election, to fill his vacant seat, in 1966, and again the Georgia House voted to bar him from membership.  He won a third election, this time for a two-year term, in November, 1966, and in December the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Georgia House had violated Bond’s rights in refusing him his seat.

Bond’s teaching experience includes being a Pappas Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania and a Visiting Professor at Drexel University, Harvard University, and Williams College.  He is currently a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the American University in Washington, D.C., and Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia in the Department of History.


Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is the executive producer, writer and presenter of The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research and Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University. Learn more about Henry Louis, Gates, Jr.


Charlayne Hunter-Gault

Charlayne Hunter-Gault is an award-winning journalist with more than 40 years in the industry,   extending her work at various times to all media. She is the author of three books, the latest To the Mountaintop:  My Journey Through the Civil Rights Movement, a historical narrative for young readers grade nine and up, published in 2012 by The New York Times and Roaring Brook Press. Her other two books are New News Out of Africa: Uncovering the African Renaissance, Oxford University Press, and In My Place, a memoir of the Civil Rights Movement fashioned around her experiences as the first black woman to attend the University of Georgia, published by Farrar Strauss and Giroux and in paperback by Vintage Press.

In 2005, she returned to NPR as a Special Correspondent after six years as CNN’s Johannesburg bureau chief and correspondent.  She joined CNN in April 1999 from National Public Radio, where she worked as the network’s chief correspondent in Africa and was awarded a Peabody in 1998 for her coverage of the continent.

Hunter-Gault joined NPR in 1997 after 20 years with PBS, where she worked as a national correspondent for THE NEWSHOUR WITH JIM LEHRER. She began her journalism career as a reporter for The New Yorker, to which she still contributes; then worked as a local news anchor for WRC-TV in Washington, DC; and as the Harlem bureau chief for The New York Times.  She has also served as Africa Bureau Chief for Essence magazine and on the board of and a frequent contributor to The Root.

Her numerous honors include two Emmy awards and three other Peabody awards — the first for her work on “Apartheid’s People,” a NEWSHOUR series about South African life during apartheid.  Over the years, she has been the recipient of numerous other awards and citations from the National Association of Black Journalists, including for her CNN series on Zimbabwe; the Sidney Hillman Foundation, the American Women in Radio and Television, the Good Housekeeping Broadcast Personality of the Year, and Amnesty International for her Human Rights reporting, especially her public television series Rights and Wrongs, a Human Rights television magazine produced by Globalvision. In August, 2005, she was inducted in the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame.  In 2011, she received the Fred Shuttlesworth’s Human Rights Award.

Hunter-Gault is a sought-after public speaker, holds some three dozen honorary degrees and   is on the board of The Carter Center, the Peabody Awards, The Committee to Protect Journalists and is co-chair of the African Media Initiative, a project aimed at promoting the highest ethical standards and business practices, as well as quality journalism on the African continent. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

In 2010, she received the D. C. Choral Arts Society Humanitarian and in 2011, she was honored with both the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award and the W. Haywood Burns award from New York’s Neighborhood Defender Service.

Currently, Hunter-Gault divides her time between Martha’s Vineyard and Sarasota, Florida, and continues to work as an author and an independent journalist.

Hunter-Gault is married to businessman Ronald T. Gault and has two adult children, Suesan, an artist, and Chuma, an actor.


Congressman John Lewis

Often called “one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced,” John Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties, and building what he calls “The Beloved Community” in America. His dedication to the highest ethical standards and moral principles has won him the admiration of many of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the United States Congress.

He was born the son of sharecroppers on February 21, 1940, outside of Troy, Alabama. He grew up on his family’s farm and attended segregated public schools in Pike County, Alabama. As a young boy, he was inspired by the activism surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which he heard on radio broadcasts. In those pivotal moments, he made a decision to become a part of the Civil Rights Movement. Ever since then, he has remained at the vanguard of progressive social movements and the human rights struggle in the United States.

As a student at Fisk University, John Lewis organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1961, he volunteered to participate in the Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation at interstate bus terminals across the South. Lewis risked his life on those Rides many times by simply sitting in seats reserved for white patrons. He was also beaten severely by angry mobs and arrested by police for challenging the injustice of Jim Crow segregation in the South.

During the height of the Movement, from 1963 to 1966, Lewis was named Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which he helped form. SNCC was largely responsible for organizing student activism in the Movement, including sit-ins and other activities.

While still a young man, John Lewis became a nationally recognized leader. By 1963, he was dubbed one of the Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. At the age of 23, he was an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in August 1963.

In 1964, John Lewis coordinated SNCC efforts to organize voter registration drives and community action programs during the Mississippi Freedom Summer. The following year, Lewis helped spearhead one of the most seminal moments of the Civil Rights Movement. Hosea Williams, another notable Civil Rights leader, and John Lewis led over 600 peaceful, orderly protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965. They intended to march from Selma to Montgomery to demonstrate the need for voting rights in the state. The marchers were attacked by Alabama state troopers in a brutal confrontation that became known as “Bloody Sunday.” News broadcasts and photographs revealing the senseless cruelty of the segregated South helped hasten the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Despite more than 40 arrests, physical attacks and serious injuries, John Lewis remained a devoted advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence. After leaving SNCC in 1966, he continued his commitment to the Civil Rights Movement as Associate Director of the Field Foundation and his participation in the Southern Regional Council’s voter registration programs. Lewis went on to become the Director of the Voter Education Project (VEP). Under his leadership, the VEP transformed the nation’s political climate by adding nearly four million minorities to the voter rolls.

In 1977, John Lewis was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to direct more than 250,000 volunteers of ACTION, the federal volunteer agency.

In 1981, he was elected to the Atlanta City Council. While serving on the Council, he was an advocate for ethics in government and neighborhood preservation. He was elected to Congress in November 1986 and has served as U.S. Representative of Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District since then. He is Senior Chief Deputy Whip for the Democratic Party in leadership in the House, a member of the House Ways & Means Committee, a member of its Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, and Ranking Member of its Subcommittee on Oversight.

John Lewis holds a B.A. in Religion and Philosophy from Fisk University, and he is a graduate of the American Baptist Theological Seminary, both in Nashville, Tennessee. He has been awarded over 50 honorary degrees from prestigious colleges and universities throughout the United States, including Harvard University, Brown University, the University of Pennsylvania, Spelman College, Princeton University, University of New Hampshire, Johnson C. Smith University, Delaware State University, Duke University, Morehouse College, Clark-Atlanta University, Howard University, Emory University, Brandeis University, Columbia University, Fisk University, Williams College, Georgetown University, and Troy State University.

John Lewis is the recipient of numerous awards from imminent national and international institutions, including the highest civilian honor granted by President Barack Obama, the Medal of Freedom, the Lincoln Medal from the historic Ford’s Theatre, the Golden Plate Award given by the Academy of Excellence, the Preservation Hero award given by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Capital Award of the National Council of La Raza, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize, the President’s Medal of Georgetown University, the NAACP Spingarn Medal, the National Education Association Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award, and the only John F. Kennedy “Profile in Courage Award” for Lifetime Achievement ever granted by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.

John Lewis lives in Atlanta, Georgia. He has one son, John Miles.

Thanks to Abby and Howard Milstein for hosting this discussion and making it available to the public.


| Restricted to U.S & Territories
© 2013 WNET. All rights reserved.
PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.
The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross is a film by Kunhardt McGee Productions, THIRTEEN Productions LLC, Inkwell Films, in assocation with Ark Media.