Civil-rights icon Julian Bond's enduring, 'invaluable' voice

Former Georgia politician and life-long civil rights activist Julian Bond, who died on Saturday, was known for his dedication to justice and equality.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/File
Longtime civil rights activist Julian Bond and activists opposed to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project tie themselves to the White House fence during an environmental protest in Washington on February 13, 2013. The US civil rights leader and former head of the NAACP, who also held elected office in Georgia for two decades, died on Saturday.

A poetic, often humorous voice of the American civil rights movement fell silent this weekend as Julian Bond, who advocated for racial equality in the country for almost sixty years, died on Saturday.

An activist from the age of 17, Mr. Bond was part of a generation of African-American leaders that grew with the civil rights movement itself in the 1960s.

“Julian Bond was a hero and, I’m privileged to say, a friend. Justice and equality was a mission that spanned his life,” said US President Barack Obama in a statement. “Julian Bond helped change this country for the better.”

The Tennessee-born grandson of a slave, Bond began to establish himself as a voice for the civil rights movement in 1960, while attending Morehouse College in Atlanta. He organized a group of staged student sit-ins that year aiming to integrate movie theaters, lunch counters and other public facilities in the city. He later helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee – allying with other leaders like Stokely Carmichael and John Lewis – which organized a number of staged sit-ins by black college students throughout the American South.

As the committee grew into one of the most important groups of the civil rights movement, Bond dropped out of Morehouse to serve as communications director. He later returned and completed his degree in 1971.

His voice was invaluable to the movement, said Eleanor Holmes Norton, a delegate to the US House of Representatives representing Washington, D.C., and one of Bond’s colleagues on the committee.

“If this was another movement, they would call him the PR man, because he was the one who wrote the best, who framed the issues the best,” she said. “He was called upon time and again to write it, to express it.”

Bond was also revered for keeping cool and calm – even keeping a sense of humor – amidst the heated and emotional situations that often arose during the movement, said Former UN Ambassador Andrew Young.

“When everybody else was getting worked up, I could find in Julian a cool and serious analysis of what was going on,” he said.

Bond’s advocacy took him to the halls of power at an early age – though not without some resistance. In 1965, he was elected as a Democrat to the Georgia House of Representatives, but members of the legislature – mostly white – refused to seat him, citing his opposition to the Vietnam War.

In a 2006 interview with Reuters, Bond recalled: “I strongly suspect that my race was also a reason.”

“I was part of a group of black legislators elected with me who integrated the lower house for the first time since Reconstruction,” he said.

The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor, and Bond finally took office in 1967. He served in the Georgia House until 1975.

The next year he led a delegation to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, months after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Amidst street riots and political anarchy over racial and economic inequality, Bond’s name was placed in nomination for the vice presidency, but he had to withdraw his name because he was seven years too young to hold the office.

He served six terms in the Georgia Senate until 1986, and was elected board chairman of the NAACP in 1998, serving for 10 years.

But he is best known for founding the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy group, in 1971. He served as president of the group until 1979 and helped oversee it for the rest of his life.

“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,” said Morris Dees, co-founder of the law center.

Mr. Young described Bond as a “lifetime struggler.”

“He started when he was about 17 and he went to 75,” Young added. “And I don’t know a single time when he was not involved in some phase of the civil rights movement.”

In recent years, he joined the environmental movement and was arrested in 2013 while protesting the Keystone XL pipeline.

Horace Julian Bond was born Jan. 14, 1940 in Nashville, Tenn. He is survived by his second wife, Pamela Horowitz, and five children. Funeral plans have not been finalized, but Ms. Horowitz said Bond will be cremated and his ashes will be scattered over the Gulf of Mexico.

This report includes material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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