In Memoriam: Civil Rights Icon Julian Bond

Civil Rights Movement icon Julian Bond passed away this weekend. The New York Times reports, Julian Bond, Former N.A.A.C.P. Chairman and Civil Rights Leader, Dies at 75:

Bond_JulianJulian Bond, a charismatic figure of the 1960s civil rights movement, a lightning rod of the anti-Vietnam War campaign and a lifelong champion of equal rights, notably as chairman of the N.A.A.C.P., died on Saturday night in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. He was 75.

The Southern Poverty Law Center announced Mr. Bond’s death on Sunday. His wife, Pamela Sue Horowitz, said the cause was complications of vascular disease.

Mr. Bond was one of the original leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee while he was a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta. He was the committee’s communications director for five years and deftly guided the national news media toward stories of violence and discrimination as the committee challenged legal segregation in the South’s public facilities.

He gradually moved from the militancy of the student group to the leadership of the establishmentarian N.A.A.C.P. Along the way, Mr. Bond was a writer, poet, television commentator, lecturer and college teacher, and persistent opponent of the stubborn remnants of white supremacy.

He also served for 20 years in the Georgia General Assembly, mostly in conspicuous isolation from white colleagues who saw him as an interloper and a rabble-rouser.

Mr. Bond became a founder, with Morris Dees, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a legal advocacy organization in Montgomery, Ala. Mr. Bond was its president from 1971 to 1979 and remained on its board for the rest of his life.

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When he was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965, along with seven other black members, furious white members of the House refused to let him take his seat, accusing him of disloyalty. He was already well known because of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s stand against the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War.

That touched off a national drama that ended in 1966 when the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, ordered the State Assembly to seat him, saying it had denied him freedom of speech.

As a lawmaker, he sponsored bills to establish a sickle cell anemia testing program and to provide low-interest home loans to low-income Georgians. He also helped create a majority-black congressional district in Atlanta.

He left the State Senate in 1986 after six terms to run for a seat in the United States House. He lost a bitter contest to his old friend John Lewis, a fellow founder of the student committee and its longtime chairman.

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On Sunday, Mr. Lewis posted on Twitter: “We went through a difficult period during our campaign for Congress in 1986, but many years ago we emerged even closer.” In another message, he wrote, “Julian Bond’s leadership and his spirit will be deeply missed.”

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Mr. Bond prospered on the lecture circuit the rest of his life. He became a regular commentator in print and on television, including as host of “America’s Black Forum,” then the oldest black-owned television program in syndication. His most unusual television appearance was in April 1977, when he hosted an episode of “Saturday Night Live.”

In later years, he taught at Harvard, Williams, Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania. He was a distinguished scholar in residence at American University in Washington and a professor of history at the University of Virginia, where he was co-director of the oral history project Explorations in Black Leadership.

Mr. Bond published a book of essays titled “A Time to Speak, a Time to Act” in 1972. He wrote poetry, much of it reflecting the pained point of view of a repressed minority, and articles for publications as varied as The Nation, Negro Digest and Playboy.

He was made chairman of the N.A.A.C.P. in 1998. He remained active in Democratic Party politics and was a strong critic of the administration of President George W. Bush.

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In a Statement on Sunday, President Obama called Mr. Bond “a hero and, I’m privileged to say, a friend.”

“Justice and equality was the mission that spanned his life,” Mr. Obama said. “Julian Bond helped change this country for the better. And what better way to be remembered than that.”

Tucson Attorney Barry Kirschner, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement working with César Chávez and the United Farm Workers, requested that I include his thoughts on the passage of Julian Bond:

Julian Bond has died at the age of 75. Bond was a dynamic and transitional figure in the Democratic Party and the party structure of Southern politics in the 1960s and 1970s.  He was courageous, eloquent, and principled.

In January 1966, Georgia state representatives voted 184–12 not to seat Bond because he had publicly endorsed SNCC’s policy regarding opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war. A three-judge panel on the United State District Court for the Northern District of Georgia ruled in a 2–1 decision that the Georgia House had not violated any of Bond’s constitutional rights. (The dissenting vote was from Griffin Bell, who was later appointed United States Attorney General by President Jimmy Carter). In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Georgia House of Representatives had denied Bond his freedom of speech and was required to seat him.

Bond became a leader well recognized outside his home state of Georgia. During the 1972 Democratic National Convention which nominated senator George McGovern to oppose incumbent Richard Nixon, Bond was heralded as a leading force of anti-war sentiment and a hoped for new South.

I heard and met Bond in Arizona in 1973, several months after the Nixon landslide, speaking at a Scottsdale Community College bonds analysis. Bond spoke of a white America which gave roughly 2/3 of its vote to Nixon, overwhelming the aspirations of minority voters who had been recently invigorated with favorable civil rights legislation, including the Voting Rights Act.

I dined with Bond as an advocate of the United Farm Workers and the ongoing UFW attempt to recall then Governor Jack Williams. True to his vision before and after, Bond was eager to be helpful in uplifting a cause primarily seen as associated with Hispanic farm workers.

Bond’s messages and delivery continued to be straightforward and courageous. Whether speaking for the Souther Poverty Law Center, the NAACP, or as a private citizen, his message was eloquent and burned with laser-like precision on the injustice being attacked. He not only attacked, he organized.

We now look, as we did decades ago, for the force which will motivate the poor and minorities to vote in numbers and with recognition of the justice of their own self interest. Julian Bond was a great leader in fighting this fight for over 50 years. May he rest in peace, and may the rest of us be renewed to take up his cause.

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