Although assassinated civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Malcolm X have dominated high school history books as the defining personalities of the movement, it would be hard to argue that anybody did more in the push for equality than Julian Bond. After over 55 years of activism as a student, politician, advocate, speaker, and civil rights philosopher, Bond died in his Fort Walton Beach, Florida home Saturday night following a brief illness. Friend and fellow civil rights activist John Lewis, who said that he hadn’t seen Bond since March, told USA Today that “I knew that he hadn’t been feeling too well the past few weeks and months, but it is shocking.” In a statement on Sunday President Obama called Bond “a hero and, I’m privileged to say, a friend.” Citing Bond’s long resume, Obama continued, “Julian Bond helped change this country for the better. And what better way to be remembered than that.” The NAACP sent a tweet out Sunday, writing that the organization “mourns the passing of Chairman Julian Bond, civil rights titan and our brother. May he rest in eternal peace.”
Bond was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the early 1960s while a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta. Softening his militant stance as the decade ended, he also a co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) along with Morris Dees, and served as the organization’s president from 1971 to 1979, remaining on the board for the rest of his life. Dees wrote about Bond on Sunday, “With Julian’s passing, the country has lost one of its most passionate and eloquent voices for the cause of justice.” Elected to the Georgia state legislature in 1965 amid controversy for his anti-Vietnam views and what many in the state believed to be his pesky civil rights agenda. Bond served in Georgia State Senate for 20 years before losing a heated race for U.S. Representative in 1986 to his close friend, John Lewis. Bond followed his time in politics by becoming a noted speaker and author of a collection of essays titled “A Time to Speak, A Time to Act.” Later in his career, Bond also served as chairman of the NAACP from 1998-2010, re-establishing the organization’s credibility following a beleaguered time after years of mismanagement. Bond also hosted several political discussion shows, both nationally and locally in Atlanta during his lifetime.
Born Horace Julian Bond in Nashville on January 14th, 1940, his father, Horace Mann Bond became the first African-American president of his alma mater, and the first degree-granting Historically Black College, Lincoln University, which ceased operations in 1972. Despite their friendship and coordinated efforts during the civil rights movement in the 1960s and beyond, Lewis and Bond’s supporters maintained a sometimes heated rivalry due to their disparate upbringings. While Bond was the son of academics (his mother was a university librarian as well), Lewis came from a family of sharecroppers. Bond’s shunning upon election to the Georgia legislature also led to his own personal civil rights legal battle, which culminated in a 1966 unanimous Supreme Court ruling that the legislature was violating Bond’s right to free speech. Among his legislative accomplishments include securing funding for sickle-cell anemia research, creating a majority black congressional district in Atlanta, and laws to provide low-interest home loans for poorer Georgia residents. In addition to his criticism of the Vietnam War earlier in his life, Bond was also a fierce opponent of President George W. Bush’s cabinet and the push for war in Iraq.
New York Times – Roy Reed
Southern Poverty Law Center – Morris Dees
USA Today – Jane Onyanga-Omara