BOSTON (CBS) — Bill Russell has seen and experienced quite a bit of racial tension, inequality and progress during his 86 years. Having grown up in Louisiana and then Oakland, and having joined the Celtics in 1956, Russell has spent much of his life dealing with racism in America and fighting for equality.
As such, the 2011 Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree lent his voice to The Boston Globe on Tuesday, in a brief guest column titled “Bill Russell’s hope for America: That this time will be different.” Russell noted that America’s issue of racism dates back to the very origins of the country.
“It’s the kind of strange that has dogged America from the beginning,” Russell wrote. “The kind of strange that justified indigenous genocide in the name of ‘civility.’ It’s the kind of strange that built a country out of the labor of that ‘peculiar’ institution known as slavery. It’s the kind of strange that justified Jim Crow, mass incarceration, police brutality, and the inequities that persist in every facet of the Black American experience.”
Russell alluded to President Donald Trump as “an inept and cowardly president who caters to white supremacists” while stating that people were wrong to condemn athletes kneeling during the national anthem while rationalizing the murder of George Floyd.
“Let me remind you of that unfulfilled promise, the one right there in the Declaration of Independence: ‘All men are created equal’ … ‘they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,'” Russell said. “I’ve been waiting my whole life for America to live up to that promise and the fact that it hasn’t, that in America the systemic and pervasive killing of Black and brown people has never been strange in the ‘out of the ordinary’ sense of the word, but only in the ‘uncomfortable and ill at ease’ sense of the word, adds up to nothing less than, in the words of that Billie Holiday song again, a strange and bitter crop of injustices, with bulging eyes and the twisted mouth, for the rain to gather, for the wind to suck, for the sun to rot, for the tree to drop.”
Russell closed his message by supporting the Black Lives Matter protesters while stressing the urgency of this moment in history.
“I sincerely hope that these kinds of strange days are forever behind us,” Russell wrote, “and that real, lasting change will finally be realized. Our lives depend on it.”