Civil rights activist 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 African American 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’s son, 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.

Bond left Morehouse College to serve as SNCC’s communications director.

“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.”

President Obama called Bond “a hero and, I’m privileged to say, a friend.”

“Justice and equality was the mission that spanned his life,” Obama said in a prepared statement. “Julian Bond helped change this country for the better. And what better way to be remembered than that?”

Horace Julian Bond was born Jan. 14, 1940 to Julia and Horace Mann Bond, who was the president of Fort Valley State College. The elder bond was also the first black president of Lincoln University, a historically black school in Pennsylvania.

From an early age, Julian Bond’s parents nurtured their children to be conscious of the world around them, discussing social justice issues and subscribing to different black newspapers. The black intellectual elite, including W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Robeson, were frequent guests in Bond’s home, and his childhood took place on the college campus, near athletic facilities, classrooms and other students.

“It was like having 400 big brothers,” Bond said. “It was a tremendous way to grow up.”

Bond attended the George School, a Quaker high school, which exposed him to ideas of nonviolent protest. The family moved to Atlanta in 1957 when Bond entered Morehouse College, with his father taking a dean position at Atlanta University, now Clark Atlanta University.

Peer pressure

Bond got involved in the Civil Rights Movement through “peer pressure,” as he liked to say. One day, he was sitting at popular cafe across from Morehouse, and Lonnie King came up to him, raising a newspaper with the Greensboro sit-ins on the front page.

“What do you think about this?” King asked. Bond answered that he thought it was great.

“Well, don’t you think it ought to happen in Atlanta?” King asked. “Yeah,” Bond replied.

“Then you take this side of the cafe, and I’ll take the other,” King replied. Bond and King gathered up a group of students from the cafeteria and started to plan out their role in the movement.

Bond was involved in protests around Atlanta with other Atlanta University Center students, including sit-ins.

The AUC students at the time received a letter from then-Southern Christian Leadership Conference Director Ella Baker, inviting them to come to Raleigh to meet other young black students engaged in sit-ins. It was there that Bond and other students helped found SNCC.

While Bond came from a different background from many other SNCC leaders — most notably, Congressman John Lewis, the sharecropper’s son — everyone had similar experiences, Bond said.

Lewis remembers Bond as “just the best” in his role as SNCC communications director.

“He had a close relationship with reporters,” Lewis said. “People could depend on him to know what’s going on, especially in places like south Georgia.”

Local civil rights historian Tom Houck said Bond’s role can’t be overstated.

“He was a master at communicating what was going on in the Civil Rights Movement,” Houck said on Sunday. “He was a master wordsmith and he had an unbelievable relationship with the media. He probably knew before anybody else that it would be television that would play a major role in changing the South.”

Roy Reed covered the Civil Rights Movement for The New York Times, and he remembers that Bond was “quick witted” and “had an easy amiability” about him as SNCC’s public face.

“He was a little bit different from all of the other black leaders,” Reed said. “Most of the reporters were white, and he was very comfortable among white people, and I think it was because of his family background. He had more social credentials than most of the white reporters. My own family were hillbillies from Arkansas. His family were educators, the top of the social scale in Atlanta.”

Entering public office

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

Bond ran for a Georgia House of Representatives seat and was elected in 1965. He was one of 11 of 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, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a march of 1,000 people to the Georgia Capitol protesting Bond’s ouster. The fight went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and the justices ruled unanimously in his favor.

“It was about race and Vietnam,” Bond said. “It was about both these things, and you can’t separate them. It was about the nerve of this black guy to have an opinion about this.”

Bond finally took his place in the Georgia House in 1967.

‘It was a rough time then’

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

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 John Lewis. The campaign included allegations that Bond was using drugs.

“It was a rough time then,” Bond said. The two rekindled their friendship years later.

Lewis acknowledged that bruising campaign in his statements Sunday, but said he and Bond “emerged even closer.”

“Julian Bond was one of a kind,” Lewis said. “Julian was so smart, so gifted, and so talented. He was deeply committed to making our country a better country. Julian Bond’s leadership and his spirit will be deeply missed.”

Bond’s later years were filled with advocacy for civil rights, combining his stage presence and activism as the host of “America’s Black Forum,” a weekly news broadcast targeting an African-American audience, from 1980 to 1997.

From 1998 to 2010, he 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 was also a distinguished professor at American University in Washington and a professor of history at the University of Virginia.

Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, announced Bond’s passing Sunday in an article posted to the organization’s website, under the headline: “We’ve lost a champion.”

“Julian was a visionary and tireless champion for civil and human rights,” Dees wrote. “With Julian’s passing, the country has lost one of its most passionate and eloquent voices for the cause of justice.”

In addition to Councilman Bond, Julian Bond is survived by his wife, Pamela Horowitz, a former SPLC staff attorney; his children, Phyllis Jane Bond-McMillan, Horace Mann Bond II, Jeffrey Alvin Bond and Julia Louise Bond; his brother, James Bond; and his sister, Jane Bond Moore.