Civil rights leader, Georgia politician: Julian Bond dead at 75

Julian Bond, a longtime leader of the NAACP who also fought to keep his seat in the Georgia Assembly, where he served 20 years, died Saturday night in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. He was 75.

A public face of activism for civil rights throughout his life, Bond led the Southern Poverty Law Center and was the first black man nominated for vice president of the United States.

Bond died after a brief illness, according to a statement released early Sunday by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Bond son’s, Michael Julian Bond, is an Atlanta city councilman.

A native of Nashville, Julian Bond was considered an icon of the civil rights movement and led the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC.

As a student at Morehouse College, Bond helped found SNCC and served as its communications director.

Bond later served as board chairman of the 500,000-member NAACP for 10 years but declined to run again for another term in 2010.

“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 a 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.”

Bond and SNCC played pivotal roles in the Freedom Rides, which aimed to desegregate bus systems, and organized mass black voter registration drives in the South.

After Selma and the passing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, African-Americans around the South were finally able to run for office.

When Bond’s friend Ben Brown ran for the Georgia Assembly in a district near Bond’s, he asked, “Bond, why don’t you try this?”

Bond replied, “Well, I guess I will!” He was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965, one of 11 who were the first black members elected to the Georgia Assembly in 58 years, the result of reapportionment and a special election after the Voting Rights Act.

However, just before he was to be seated in 1966, Bond voiced support for a SNCC statement that denounced U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and sympathized with draft evasion. As a result, members of the Georgia Legislature accused Bond of treason and disorderly conduct, voting 184-12 to bar him from being seated.

Four days later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a march of 1,000 people to the Georgia Capitol protesting Bond’s ouster.

For the next year Bond pushed his case through the judiciary system all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he fought for his right to speak his mind in Bond v. Floyd. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously for him.

In 1968, at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Wisconsin delegate Ted Warshafsky nominated Bond as a vice presidential candidate. Bond was the first African-American to be nominated, but the then 28-year-old had to withdraw his name because he was too young constitutionally.

Bond spent 20 years in the Georgia Legislature, serving in the Georgia House until 1975 and then switching to the Senate until 1986. He garnered a national reputation through speaking engagements across the country, which made some voters see him as an "absentee senator," but Bond wrote more than 60 bills that became law during his time in office.

In 1986, he lost a bitterly fought campaign for Congress to his civil rights colleague and now Congressman John Lewis. The campaign included allegations that Bond was using drugs. Years later the two renewed their friendship.

From 1998 to 2010, Bond was chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and later served as the first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

Bond called the NAACP “the most democratic civil rights organization in America,” and he said the SPLC is “a major actor in fighting racial prejudice.”

Bond was also a distinguished professor at American University in Washington and a professor of history at the University of Virginia.