A memorial honoring civil and human rights champion and NAACP Chairman Julian Bond will be held Sunday, Aug. 23, 3 p.m., at Third Baptist Church, 1399 McAllister St., San Francisco
by George C. Gardner III
Lives well lived, ones that are defined by the impact they have on others, are often animated by some deeply felt issue or cause. For Julian Bond, that issue was race: “I must admit to a certain prejudice, a bias. That is race. Most of my life has been colored by race, so much of my thinking focuses on race.”
This admission begins one of the several of essays in his book, “A Time to Speak, A Time to Act,” which reflects on the Civil Rights and Black Power eras. Bond, who died on Saturday from complications of vascular disease, was indeed immersed, for the whole of his adult life, in the intractable questions of race and justice that extend to the depths of American society.
Bond’s commitment to race and activism, spanning more than a half-century, began most prominently with his role in co-founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960. Serving as the organization’s communications director for the next five years, Bond determined early on that he was better suited for the public eye than the confines of a jail cell.
In 1965, he was elected to the Georgia Legislature but did not take his seat until the following year, being obstructed from doing so by his fellow lawmakers on the basis of his public opposition to the war in Vietnam. Having been one of eight students enrolled in the only course ever taught by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bond was surely aware of the resistance that his opinions would encounter.
Just months after King’s assassination, Bond was nominated for vice president of the United States at the August 1968 Democratic National Convention, although, at 27 years old, he was too young to qualify for the office. The nomination, while symbolic, was intended to draw greater attention to issues of poverty, racism and war, issues that Bond and others felt were not adequately addressed in that forum.
Not content to work solely as a legislator, Bond helped to establish the Southern Poverty Law Center and served as its president from 1971 to 1979. His book of essays, published in 1972, demonstrated Bond’s characteristic candor and wit on issues as wide as Black political history and as narrow as identifying FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover as the “petty bully” running the “Federal Bureau of Intimidation.”
Bond left behind the life of policymaking in 1986, after losing a hard-fought congressional race against renowned civil rights activist and old friend John Lewis. He later began speaking across the nation and teaching, most notably at the University of Virginia, which is seeking to establish an endowed professorship in his honor. In 1998, he ascended to the chair of the 64-member board of the NAACP, stewarding the organization for more than a decade in that role.
As the Library of Congress has recognized, Bond is a “living legend” whose shining example is one of sustained commitment to the struggle for racial justice. That commitment is evident to any casual observer of his life, and it is also noteworthy among those who knew him well.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, a former SNCC activist, current delegate to the U.S. Congress for the District of Columbia, and Bond’s friend, observed that Bond not only survived the acute demands of activism in the early Civil Rights Movement, but managed to spend his entire life in civil rights, avoiding sentimentality and keeping pace with the issues of the day. Indeed, Bond’s public stances included everything from supporting statehood for the District of Columbia to advocating for environmental justice and marriage equality.
Of all the labels and titles that could rightfully be appended to Bond – activist, politician, lecturer, commentator, professor – he wished to be remembered most as a “race man”:
“A race man is an expression that’s not used anymore, but it used to describe a man – usually a man, could have been a woman too – who was a good defender of the race, who didn’t dislike White people, but who stood up for Black people, who fought for Black people. I’d want people to say that about me.”
Julian Bond was a leader with strength, character
by Jesse Jackson
The news this weekend that Julian Bond passed away at 75 saddened me deeply. America has lost a true and still vital champion for justice. President Barack Obama, hailing Bond as a hero and a friend, noted that “Julian Bond helped change this country for the better. And what better way to be remembered than that.”
At a very young age, Bond helped forge the emerging Civil Rights Movement and was in many ways a founding father of the New South that we now see still in formation. In 1957, as a student at Morehouse, son of a college president, varsity swimmer, head of the literary magazine, intern for Time Magazine, he was on the path to success.
But the success he chose was to make history, not money. He was arrested after organizing some of the first student demonstrations to desegregate Atlanta’s lunch counters, parks and theaters. Realizing that young people could take risks too costly for adults with families, at 20, he helped found SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He became its secretary and head of its communications in part because he was seen as organized, levelheaded and eloquent.
Julian was ahead of most in the movement for understanding the big picture. He realized that civil rights could not be achieved without economic rights, and that economic rights would not advance if America kept throwing resources and lives into war abroad. He became an early and outspoken critic of the Vietnam War.
After the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Julian led voter registration drives. At the remarkable age of 25, he was elected to the Georgia State House. The sitting legislators demanded that he repudiate his opposition to the Vietnam War.
When he refused, they refused to seat him. Three times his constituents re-elected him; three times the House denied him his seat. Finally the Supreme Court ruled their actions unconstitutional. In January 1967, Bond took his seat and served in the House and Senate for the next two decades.
By that time he was a national hero for having stood on principle even at the cost of his political career. In the embittered 1968 Chicago Democratic Presidential Convention, Bond led an insurgent Georgia delegation and was called upon to second the nomination of Eugene McCarthy for president.
With the convention floor in bedlam and demonstrations raging outside the hall, Bond was nominated as vice president, a symbolic nomination – he was only 27 and the constitutionally required age is 35 – “about the wave of the future.”
Bond served as legislator, scholar, teacher and leader. He was a founder and early president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He taught at the University of Virginia and lectured widely, receiving over 30 honorary degrees. He chaired the NAACP for 12 years until 2010.
He had experienced first-hand the slight and shackles of segregation — and organized to end them. He knew first-hand the suppression of the right to vote and helped build a movement to challenge that.
To his final years, his intelligence, clarity and passion continued to instruct. He understood that, as he put it, “America is race,” from the founders to the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement to Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Sandra Bland.
He knew that Barack Obama’s election and re-election was a measure of the progress that had been made but “didn’t herald a post-civil rights America. … It couldn’t eliminate structural inequity or racist attitudes,” he said, even suggesting Obama’s election fomented such attitudes: “Obama,” he said, “is to the Tea Party as the moon is to werewolves.”
To his final days, he urged people into motion, knowing that only when people mobilized and acted could anything change. “We look back and see giant leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King,” he taught, but the Civil Rights Movement was “a people’s movement. It produced leaders of its own; but it relied not on the noted but the nameless, not on the famous but the faceless. It didn’t wait for commands from afar to begin a campaign against injustice. It saw wrong and acted against it; it saw evil and brought it down.”
Julian Bond was a leader of exceptional clarity. He had the strong mind and courage needed to break strong chains. He made a dramatic contribution with his life. And he will be deeply missed.
Rev. Jesse Jackson, a Baptist minister and founder of Rainbow/PUSH, ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1984, winning nearly 3.3 million primary votes, 18.9 percent of the total, and in 1988, winning nearly 7 million primary votes, 29.13 percent of the total. He can be reached at ReverendJesseJackson@keephopealiveradio.com.
Julian Bond was never one to shrink away from a worthy fight
by Marc H. Morial
“The country has lost one of its most passionate and eloquent voices for the cause of justice. He advocated not just for African Americans, but for every group, indeed every person subject to oppression and discrimination, because he recognized the common humanity in us all.” – Morris Dees, Southern Poverty Law Center
He lived his life as a tireless champion of the oppressed and maligned, a battle-worn warrior for civil rights, equality and social justice. Bond fought the good fight and, at the still-youthful age of 75, he completed his course.
His longtime dedication to equal rights for African Americans – and for all – will be celebrated in the days and months to come. But we must guard against fossilizing his life and legacy in tributes or textbooks.
Bond lived a life of action, clear mission and steadfast service. There could be no worthier tribute to Bond than to pick up the baton he has passed and re-dedicate ourselves to the struggle to make the promises and opportunities of our democracy true for all its citizens.
That struggle is an ongoing one that neither begins nor ends with one movement or personality. Individually and collectively, we must take up the baton to bring an end to the deadly scourge of police brutality, close persistent economic inequality gaps and address destructive disparities in our nation’s education system. We must do it, because as Bond once famously reminded us all: “Good things don’t come to those who wait. They come to those who agitate.”
Bond was a student in a philosophy class taught by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Morehouse College in Atlanta. It was there, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, that Bond began to agitate in earnest, co-founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee along with other Morehouse students, including now-Congressman John Lewis. He served as the group’s communications director for five years.
Bond was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965 but was not allowed to take his seat because his white colleagues objected to his opposition to the Vietnam War. It took a year, a protest march led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a Supreme Court order, but the legislature finally allowed him to take his rightful seat in 1966. He spent 20 years in the Georgia Legislature, serving in both the House and the Senate.
In 1968, Bond became a national figure after delivering a fiery speech at the Chicago Democratic National Convention. His performance was so impressive his name was placed into the nominating process for vice president – a position he could not qualify for because he was too young.
Bond went on to serve as the first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, remaining on its board for the rest of his life after his tenure came to an end in 1979. Later, he would also serve as chairman of the NAACP.
No matter the capacity, Bond was first and foremost an activist for equal rights. In addition to his political career and his work as a civil rights leader, Bond was an accomplished writer, he was a lecturer and a professor, a television show host and he narrated “Eyes on the Prize,” an iconic documentary on the Civil Rights Movement.
Bond never stopped agitating because he fundamentally believed that “the humanity of all Americans is diminished when any group is denied rights granted to others.” Bond never limited his philosophy to any community, region or nationality.
Bond fought against segregation on our shores and apartheid in South Africa. He devoted himself to equal rights for all, including, most recently, the rights of the LGBT community.
Bond left a lasting legacy for us to explore, celebrate and continue. Whether it’s challenges to voting rights or inequity in education funding, many of the challenges he faced yesterday continue to plague our nation today.
His lifelong fight for equality and justice must become our lifelong fight for the same. We can all become a part of his vision to create a more perfect union in our nation. Our prayers and heartfelt sympathy are with his family, along with our promise to continue Julian’s fight.