Campus News

US congressman discusses power of political process to effect social change

During the Holmes-Hunter Lecture Feb. 18

Sanford Bishop, U.S. congressman from Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District, delivered the Holmes-Hunter Lecture Feb. 18 at the Chapel.

“We were pleased to host Congressman Bishop as the 2016 keynote speaker for the Holmes-Hunter lecture series,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “The lecture continues to serve as an important opportunity for our university to celebrate the legacy of Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter-Gault.”

Currently serving his 12th term, Bishop talked about the value of the path paved by Holmes and Hunter-Gault, the first two black students to enroll at UGA.

“Who, what and where I am today is largely in part to what they did,” Bishop said.

Bishop recalled the time he was sitting at the kitchen table with his father in 1954 and he first heard the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling. He said the decision informed his lifelong commitment to ensuring social justice.

Bishop said the work done by those seeking social justice is tiresome and tense—but it also is rewarding to those who are committed and courageous.

Bishop worked as an attorney before serving in Congress. His first case addressed the poor living conditions in a Georgia state prison. Bishop detailed the more than 10 years it took to alleviate the conditions but recalled the positive impact his commitment had on ­prisoners’ lives. But, it was then he said that he ­realized lasting change that affects more than a few people could only come through legislative policy.

“I realized if I passed one good bill in the legislature, it would help the whole state,” he said. “Utilization of the political process is the way to effect social change.”

Bishop said it was ultimately Martin Luther King Jr.’s death in 1968 that inspired his lifelong commitment to civil rights.

“He made a tremendous impression, and I really wanted to follow in his footsteps,” Bishop said. “I was determined that I would keep his dream alive and use my life as he did to improve the lives of (African-Americans) in the southern United States.”

Bishop said that his tenure in the legislature has been a continuous commitment to civil rights that those before him sparked. He strives to pass bills that make King’s dreams of unity and equality a reality.

“We owe gratitude to Holmes, Hunter-Gault and others on whose shoulders we stand,” he said.