It’s hard to believe it’s been 23 years since I first met Juan Williams, the legendary author of Eyes on the Prize, the book that accompanied the 14-hour award-winning television series with the same name a quarter century ago.
Tonight I had the opportunity to be his chaffeur as he visited the University of Alabama to give the keynote address at our Realizing the Dream Legacy Awards Banquet.
Williams, formerly of National Public Radio and The Washington Post, now co-host of Fox News Channel’s “The Five, and fill-in host “The O’Reilly Factor,” spoke to a soldout crowd at the Hotel Capstone .
He used the occasion to share some of the comments from generations of readers of Eyes on the Prize who often are in disbelief about much of what Williams shares in recounting the Civil Rights Movement.
A year after the 25th anniversary of the publication of Eyes on the Prize, Williams says people still ask “is that really true?” what he reported happened in the period between 1954 and 1965 “was it really that bad?”
Even as he shared stories from his Eyes on the Prize readers, who he says get “younger and younger” he lamented how many want to analyze what he calls the “complicated story of race in America today” by drawing comparisons to the Civil Rights Movement.
COMPARISONS TO FERGUSON
Months after the death of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and the unrest following a grand jury’s decision not to the indict the police officer responsible, Williams says with an African American in The White House, an African American United States Attorney General and an African American executive editor of The New York TImes, there is no comparison.
“People want this period now to be just like the Civil Rights Movement,” Williams said. ” We have a different of problems.”
The 60-year-old Panamanian born political analyst says, instead of drawing those comparisons, we should take inspiration from those who accomplished much a half-century ago.
“It’s not necessary to say we were back where we were 50 years ago,” he said.
This afternoon, neither of us could recall The Washington Post story on Former Howard University President Franklyn Jenifer published in September 1992 for which he interviewed me as the editor-in-chief of THE HILLTOP, Howard’s student newspaper.
The subject of that news story wasn’t important today.
What is significant is that 23 years after he sat in my office at THE HILLTOP in Washington, DC talking to me as I was weeks away from finishing my undergraduate degree in journalism, I’d be an assistant dean at the University of Alabama and Williams would be giving the keynote address here, the same place that he wrote about as being one of the last institutions to integrate.
It was neat showing him Foster Auditorium where George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door and today where the University has recognized the accomplishments of the late Vivian Malone Jones and James Hood, the first blacks admitted to the University in 1963.
What a great start to our Martin Luther King weekend!