Some people have a choice but Julian Bond always knew who he was and what his responsibility was to his community. He was born the son of Horace Mann Bond, an historian, college administrator and social science researcher who taught through example while making his own contributions to Black Freedom struggle of the 1950’s through the 1960s. A Nashville native as would be his children, he was born to parents who were former slaves, both of whom graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio and valued education. Horace’s father trained as a pastor and accepted posts at Congregationalist churches across the south. They were easily among the Black elite and encouraged their children to pursue success through academic achievement.
It was never a question of whether or not he’d go to college so when Julian Bond enrolled at Morehouse in 1961 it was as it should be. And when he became one of the original Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee/SNCC in Atlanta from 1961 as communications director, it was of no surprise to his family or those who knew him. He also married in 1961, began a family and left Morehouse for the sole purpose of working on civil rights in the South. From 1961 to 1963, he led student protests against segregation in public facilities and the Jim Crow laws of Georgia.
Julian Bond held his position with SNCC for five years and skillfully guided the national news media toward stories of violence and discrimination as the committee challenged legal segregation in the South’s public facilities during a time when mainstream media ignored what was happening to Blacks. He helped organize civil rights and voter registration drives until to September 1966.
Over time he shifted his stance to lean more towards the leadership of the N.A.A.C.P. where he found a foundation of peace that would guide him throughout the rest of his life. The ideology of a peaceful resistance resonated with him after experiencing the horrific crimes against Blacks by whites during his tenure at SNCC. This led to his close affiliation with Dr. ML King upfront and center.
In 1965, Mr. Bond was one of eleven African Americans elected to the Georgia House of Representatives after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act of 1965 had opened voter registration to Blacks. By ending the disfranchisement of Blacks through discriminatory voter registration, Blacks regained the ability to vote and entered the political process. Mr. Bond ultimately ran and was elected as a Democrat, the party of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had signed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act into law. However it was noted by Civil Rights leaders how Johnson had hesitated and did not sign the Civil Rights Act until he was forced.
Every experience he had leading up to that culminating moment that revealed to the world who he was prepared Mr. Bond to deal with white folks, who never stopped their intention to oppress and deny Blacks the humanity they deserved. On January 10, 1966, Georgia state representatives voted 184–12 not to seat him because he had publicly endorsed SNCC’s policy regarding opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. A three-judge panel on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia ruled in a 2–1 decision that the Georgia House had not violated any of Bond’s constitutional rights.
Never backing down, in 1966, the United States Supreme Court ruled 9–0 in the case of Bond v. Floyd (385 U.S. 116) that the Georgia House of Representatives had denied Mr. Bond his freedom of speech and was required to seat him.
From 1967 to 1975, Bond was elected to four terms in the Georgia House, where he organized the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus.
In January 1967, Mr. Bond was among eleven House members who refused to vote when the legislature elected segregationist Democrat Lester Maddox of Atlanta as governor of Georgia over the Republican Howard Callaway. Callaway had led in the 1966 general election by some three thousand votes. The choice fell on state lawmakers under the Georgia Constitution of 1824 because neither major party candidate had polled a majority in the general election. Bond would not support either Maddox or Callaway, although he was ordered to vote by lame duck Lieutenant Governor Peter Zack Geer.
During the 1968 presidential election, Mr. Bond led an alternate delegation from Georgia to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where he became the first African American to be nominated as a major-party candidate for Vice President of the United States. The 28-year-old Bond quickly declined nomination, citing the constitutional requirement that one must be at least 35 years of age to serve in that office.
Keeping with family tradition Mr. Bond returned to Morehouse in 1971 at age 31 to complete his Bachelor of Arts in English. With Morris Dees, he helped found the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a public-interest law firm based in Montgomery, Alabama. He served as its president from 1971 to 1979.
Bond ran for the United States House of Representatives from Georgia’s 5th congressional district in 1986. He lost the Democratic nomination in a runoff to civil rights leader John Lewis who had a larger national reputation as the man on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement. So the nomination delivered the seat to Lewis, who still serves in Congress. Consequently haunted by allegations of drug use, Mr. Bond resigned from the Georgia Senate the following year.
From 1980 to 1997, Bond hosted America’s Black Forum. He was also a commentator for radio’s Byline and NBC’s The Today Show. He authored the nationally syndicated newspaper column Viewpoint, and narrated the critically acclaimed PBS series Eyes on the Prize in 1987 and 1990. In 2012, Bond was centrally featured in Julian Bond: Reflections from the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement, a 32-minute documentary film by Eduardo Montes-Bradley.
In 1998, Bond was selected as chairman of the NAACP. In November 2008, he announced that he would not seek another term as chairman.
Ahead of his time Mr. Bond was an outspoken supporter of the rights of gays and lesbians. He publicly stated his support for same-sex marriage. Most notably, he boycotted the funeral services for Coretta Scott King on the grounds that the King children had chosen an anti-gay mega-church as the venue. This was in conflict with their mother’s longstanding support for the rights of gay and lesbian people. In a 2005 speech in Richmond, Virginia, Mr. Bond stated:
“African Americans … were the only Americans who were enslaved for two centuries, but we were far from the only Americans suffering discrimination then and now…. Sexual disposition parallels race. I was born this way. I have no choice. I wouldn’t change it if I could. Sexuality is unchangeable.’
In a 2007 speech on the Martin Luther King Day Celebration at Clayton State University in Morrow, Georgia, Bond said, “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married.” His stance positioned elements of the NAACP against religious groups in the Civil Rights movement, who oppose gay marriage. On October 11, 2009, Bond appeared at the National Equality March in Washington, D.C., and spoke about the rights of the LGBT community, a speech, which was aired live on C-SPAN.
Always cutting on the edge Mr. Bond was a strong critic of policies that contribute to anthropogenic climate change and was amongst a group of protesters arrested at the White House for civil disobedience in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline in February 2013.
He was also an outspoken critic of the Bush administration from its assumption of office in 2001, in large part because Bond believed the administration was illegitimate. Twice that year, first in February to the NAACP board and then in July at that organization’s national convention, he attacked the administration for selecting Cabinet secretaries “from the Taliban wing of American politics”. Bond specifically targeted Attorney General John Ashcroft, who had opposed affirmative action, and Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who defended the Confederacy in a 1996 speech on states’ rights. In the selection of these individuals, Bond said, Bush had appeased “the wretched appetites of the extreme right wing and chosen Cabinet officials whose devotion to the Confederacy is nearly canine in its uncritical affection.” During his tenure with the NAACP he was a major contributor too much of the newly established relationships with television media executive opening the doors to greater opportunities for Blacks in positions which they were ordinarily not considered.
On May 14, 2013, while on MSNBC, Bond called the Tea Party the “Taliban wing of American politics.” Bond told MSNBC, “I think it’s entirely legitimate to look at the tea party.” But he also said, “It was wrong for the IRS to behave in this heavy-handed manner. They didn’t explain it well before or now what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.” He called Tea Party members “a group of people who are admittedly racist, who are overtly political, who’ve tried as best as they can to harm President Obama in every way they can.” He added, “We all ought to be a little worried about them.”
Like most innovators he expressed himself through the multi-disciplines that afforded him creative authenticity. He authored poetry, essays and commentaries, taught at colleges served as a television commentary and continued to confront white supremacy with a vengeance. He served Black people well and in doing so he served in America’s best interest. He always stood up against injustice. He made us proud.
Bond died from complications of vascular disease on August 15, 2015 in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, aged 75.