I had the great fortune of having Julian Bond as a colleague at American University.
On a number of occasions, I sat in on his lectures or talks. These were mostly small, intimate gatherings away from cameras and the media. That is when Julian Bond the agitator became Julian Bond the educator, effortlessly mesmerizing young minds eager for his knowledge and experience.
Bond left his fingerprints on pretty much every major civil rights organization and issue of the last five decades. From the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to the Southern Poverty Law Center to the NAACP, he fiercely fought to defend the goals and aspirations of many millions who wanted human rights and social justice.
Many students saw his wisdom but often missed the path by which it came. Fifty-plus years ago, Bond was their age, grappling with the urgent issues of his time. He was the son of renowned educator Horace Mann Bond, and from his childhood, he grew into a lifetime of service.
While many activists view themselves as symbolic students of Martin Luther King Jr., Bond was in fact an actual student of his at Morehouse College in 1962. King taught his class using a syllabus that included readings from Socrates, Rousseau and Karl Marx. He discussed the aftermath of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, not only sharing the lessons of that campaign but also marching with the students as they protested.
Yet even then the tide was turning toward a more militant and uncompromising effort that Bond and other young people would lead. Leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee came out against the Vietnam War publicly years before King, who did oppose the conflict but privately and to only a few before his iconic 1967 “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” speech.
Like Muhammad Ali, Bond did not back down from his anti-war position despite the risks he faced. In 1966, his unyielding stance gave fodder to conservatives in the Georgia House of Representatives, and they refused to seat the newly elected Bond. It would take a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision for him to finally be allowed to serve.
Bond exemplified the precept that the fight for social justice is a lifelong endeavor. He supported marriage equality before it was popular, a position contrary to some civil rights-era activists who united with conservatives on this issue. In 2013, he was arrested at the White House, home to his friend Barack Obama, while protesting the Keystone XL pipeline.
Bond was disappointed that King’s legacy of radicalism has been washed away by a more pliant and moderate version. In a 50-year retrospective on King, Bond identified him as a “critic of capitalism” and spoke of income inequality in recent years as a crucial issue.
Bond moved seamlessly between being a lawmaker, activist, educator and commentator. In each role, he maintained a sincere, courageous, reflective and honorable fealty to social and racial justice. That is the Bond I saw on campus. This is the Bond who entered and stayed in our national consciousness beginning more than five decades ago, and it is this Bond we honor in his passing.
Clarence Lusane is a professor of political science and international relations at American University.
©2015 Clarence Lusane
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