Julian Bond, one of America’s most poetic voices for equality who inspired fellow activists with his words in the 1960s and carried the civil rights movement’s vision to succeeding generations as a speaker and academic, has died at 75.
The life of the cool, telegenic Julian Bond seemed to trace the arc of the movement, from his efforts as a militant young man to start a black student protest group, through a long career in politics and his leadership of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People almost four decades later.
Former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young said Bond’s legacy would be as a ”lifetime struggler.”
”He started when he was about 17 and he went to 75,” Young said. ”And I don’t know a single time when he was not involved in some phase of the civil rights movement.”
Bond died Saturday in Florida, after a brief illness, according to a statement issued Sunday by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an advocacy group that he founded in 1971 and helped oversee for the rest of his life. His wife, Pamela Horowitz, said Bond suffered from vascular disease.
Her husband, she said, ”never took his eyes off the prize and that was always racial equality.”
President Barack Obama called Bond ”a hero.”
”Justice and equality was the mission that spanned his life,” Obama said in a statement. ”Julian Bond helped change this country for the better. And what better way to be remembered than that.”
Bond was ”a thinker as well as a doer. He was a writer as well as a young philosopher,” said Charlayne Hunter-Gault, a journalist who struck up a friendship with Bond in the early 1960s, when she was one of the first two black students to attend the University of Georgia. At the time, Bond was an activist in Atlanta with the newly formed committee.
Bond’s eloquence and sense of humor ”really helped sustain the young people in the civil rights movement.”
Bond, the son of a college president, burst into the national consciousness after helping to start the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, where he rubbed shoulders with committee leaders Stokely Carmichael and future Congressman John Lewis. As the committee grew into one of the civil rights movement’s most important groups, the young Bond dropped out of Morehouse College in Atlanta to serve as communications director. He later returned and completed his degree in 1971.
Bond was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965 but fellow lawmakers, many of them white, refused to let him take his seat because of his anti-Vietnam War stance. The case went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor. Bond finally took office in 1967.
Bond was often seen at the forefront of protests against segregation. In 1968, he led a delegation to the Democratic National Convention, where his name was placed in nomination for the vice presidency, but he declined because he was too young.
In 1998, Bond was elected board chairman of the NAACP and served for 10 years as the head of the major civil rights organization.
Bond was known for his intellect and his even keel, even in the most emotional situations, Young said.
”When everybody else was getting worked up, I could find in Julian a cool serious analysis of what was going on,” Young said.
Bond was often at the forefront of protests against segregation. In 1960, he helped organize a sit-in involving Atlanta college students at the City Hall cafeteria.
”We never thought that he really would participate and be arrested because he was always so laid back and cool, but he joined in with us,” recalled Carolyn Long Banks, now 74.
Hunter-Gault said she hopes young people draw lessons from Bond’s life and work as they embrace the Black Lives Matter movement that arose in response to recent police killings of blacks.
”Everybody is not going to be out there in the street with their hands up or shouting,” she said. ”There’ve got to be people like Julian who participate and observe and combine those two things for action and change that make a difference.”