Julian Bond wanted three things on his headstone, according to his longtime friend and renowned author Taylor Branch.
“Freedom fighter, founder of SNCC,” Branch said, referring to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee the civil rights titan helped launch in the 1960s. And that Bond — one of the country’s most revered human rights activists — was “easily amused.”
Branch was among those to take part in a national tribute to Bond on Saturday, one week after his death. The former Atlantan died Aug. 15 in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., following complications from what his family has said were vascular problems.
Despite discussing plans with Branch about a grave-site marker, Bond’s body was cremated this week in Florida. The family held a private ceremony to scatter his ashes in the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday, but asked friends and admirers across the globe to lay flowers on water in his honor.
And so a couple hundred Atlantans arrived to the King Center’s reflecting pool in the blazing hot August sun — not for an elaborate memorial service that so often follows the death of a prominent person, but for an informal, somber exchange of memories.
The Rev. C.T. Vivian, former Mayor Andrew Young, State Sen. Nan Orrock, who worked for Bond in the 1960s, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Councilman Kwanza Hall, Martin Luther King III and others were among those in attendance. The group placed a wreath on the expansive pool just after 3 p.m., the same time Bond’s family was to spread his ashes at sea.
Across the country, in cities including Washington, Dallas and Montgomery, others did the same. Many posted photos on social media of flower petals floating on water in Bond’s honor.
Bond understood that “in order to bring about changes for the good of the (African-American) race, he had to be concerned about the human race,” said Young, who worked alongside Bond in the Civil Rights Movement. “You never saw him holler black power, white power or any other kind of power. He was a human being who understood that all of us had to live together as brothers and sisters, or perish together as fools.”
After serving as the communications chair of SNCC in the 1960s, Bond would go on to spend two decades as a Georgia legislator and become the first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Bond, the first African-American to be nominated as the nation’s vice president, also served as a longtime chairman of the NAACP.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal ordered flags to fly half-staff to honor Bond on the day of his burial.
His family members have said they are planning a memorial celebration in Washington sometime in September, with the possibility of a formal service to follow in Atlanta.