Julian Bond, a former chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 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 for minorities, died on Saturday night, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. He was 75.
Bond died in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., after a brief illness, the center said in a statement Sunday morning.
“With Julian’s passing, the country has lost one of its most passionate and eloquent voices for the cause of justice,” SPLC co-founder Morris Dees said in the statement. “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.”
The SPLC said Bond was a “visionary” and “tireless champion” for civil and human rights.
He was one of the original leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, while he was a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
“I don’t know if you can possibly measure his imprint. It’s extraordinary. It stretches his entire career and life in so many ways,” said Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney in Birmingham who helped Bond when brought students to Alabama to visit civil rights sites. “That was, I think, his real calling in his later years was to make sure that history stayed alive so that people could understand the connection between 50 years ago and today.”
“You can use the term giant, champion, trailblazer – there’s just not enough adjectives in the English language to describe the life and career of Julian bond,” Jones added.
“Very few throughout human history have embodied the ideals of honor, dignity, courage and friendship like Dr. Julian Bond,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “Quite simply, this nation and this world are far better because of his life and commitment to justice and equality for all people. Future generations will look back on the life and legacy of Julian Bond and see a warrior of good who helped conquer hate in the name of love. I will greatly miss my friend and my hero, Dr. Julian Bond.”
President Barack Obama also called Bond a hero and said Sunday that he and first lady Michelle Obama have benefited from Bond’s example, counsel and friendship.
The president, vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., added: “Justice and equality was the mission that spanned his life. Julian Bond helped change this country for the better. And what better way to be remembered than that.”
From SNCC to public office
Bond moved from the militancy of SNCC to the top leadership of the establishmentarian NAACP. Along the way, he was a writer, poet, TV commentator, lecturer, college teacher, and persistent opponent of the stubborn remnants of white supremacy.
He also served for 20 years in the Georgia legislature, mostly in conspicuous isolation from white colleagues who saw him as an interloper and a rabble-rouser.
Bond’s wit, cool personality and youthful face became familiar to millions of television viewers during the 1960s and 1970s; he was described as dashing, handsome and urbane.
On the strength of his personality and quick intellect, he moved to the center of the civil rights action in Atlanta, the unofficial capital of the movement, at the height of the struggle for racial equality in the early 1960s.
Moving beyond demonstrations, he became a founder, with Dees, of the SPLC, a legal advocacy organization in Montgomery, Ala. Bond was its president from 1971 to 1979 and remained on its board for the rest of his life.
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 SNCC’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 legislature 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 that seat in the U.S. House. He lost a bitter contest to his old friend John Lewis, a fellow founder of SNCC and its longtime chairman. The two men, for all their earlier closeness in the rights movement, represented opposite poles of African-American life in the South: Lewis was the son of a sharecropper; Bond was the son of a college president.
A child of educators
Horace Julian Bond was born Jan. 14, 1940, in Nashville, Tenn. His father, Horace Mann Bond, moved the family to Pennsylvania five years later, when he became the first African-American president of his alma mater, Lincoln University.
Julian Bond’s great-grandmother Jane Bond was the slave mistress of a Kentucky farmer. Julian’s grandfather James Bond, one of Jane Bond’s sons, was educated at Berea and Oberlin colleges and became a clergyman. His son Horace Mann Bond expected his own son Julian to follow in his footsteps as an educator, but the young man was attracted instead to journalism and political activism.
At Morehouse College, he plunged into extracurricular activities but paid less attention to his studies. The civil rights movement provided a good excuse to drop out of college in 1961. He returned in the early 1970s to complete his English degree.
Dozens of his friends went to jail during his time with SNCC. But he was arrested only once. In 1960, after word of student sit-ins at lunch counters in Greensboro, N.C., spread across the South, Bond and a few of his friends at Morehouse organized protests against segregated public facilities in Atlanta. He was arrested when he led a sit-in at the City Hall cafeteria.
Bond devoted most of the 1960s to the protest movement and activist politics, including campaigns to register black voters. He was made chairman of the NAACP, in 1998. He remained active in Democratic Party politics and was a strong critic of the administration of President George W. Bush. He said Bush had chosen some of his cabinet officers “from the Taliban wing of American politics.”
He 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 show in television syndication.
Over his long career, he taught at Williams College, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Virginia, and Harvard and American universities.
Bond is survived by his second wife, Pamela Horowitz, a former SPLC staff attorney; his five children, Phyllis Jane Bond-McMillan, Horace Mann Bond II, Michael Julian Bond, Jeffrey Alvin Bond, and Julia Louise Bond; his brother, James Bond; and his sister, Jane Bond Moore.
Bond published a book of essays titled “A Time to Speak, A Time to Act.” He wrote poetry and articles for publications as varied as The Nation, Negro Digest and Playboy.
Most of Bond’s poetry reflected the pained point of view of a repressed minority. But his most famous was perhaps a two-line doggerel that he dashed off after one too many overly concerned white students offended him by saying, “If only they were all like you.”
Look at that girl shake that thing,
We can’t all be Martin Luther King.
Former Ambassador Andrew Young said Bond’s legacy would be as a “lifetime struggler.”
“He started when he was about 17, and he went to 75, and I don’t know a single time when he was not involved in some phase of the civil rights movement.”
Intellectual and telegenic, Bond was known for his even emotional keel, and could be depended upon not to lose his cool even in the most emotional situations, Young said.
“I could usually find when everybody else was getting worked up, I could find in Julian a cool serious analysis of what was going on,” Young said.
AP writers Jesse Holland, Jeff Martin and Darlene Superville contributed.