Why Julian Bond mattered to the movement

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The civil rights community has lost one of its greatest champions and elder statesmen with the passing of Julian Bond.

Bond, 75, who passed after a brief illness, left an indelible mark on the nation’s landscape through his bold activism and advocacy, his struggle against injustice and his critique of white supremacy.

What was most impressive about Mr. Bond was his role as a pioneer, a man of many firsts. A student at Morehouse College, Bond helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, where he served as its communications director for a number of years and provided leadership in a movement that successfully pushed for landmark legislation. Bond also led protests and sit-ins against Jim Crow segregation policies and led campaigns to register black voters, and was involved in the 1963 March on Washington. He and others such as current U.S. Congressman John Lewis left SNCC in the wake of the Black Power movement, when whites were ejected from the organization.

In 1965, following the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Bond was one of eleven blacks elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, but was barred from taking his seat by white lawmakers due to his anti-Vietnam War stance. After winning a Supreme Court victory, he took his seat in 1967. After serving in the Georgia state House, he later served six terms in the state Senate, from 1975 to 1986. In 1968, Bond became the first black nominated for vice president by a major party, though he had to decline because he did not meet the constitutional age requirement.

Bond also helped found the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1971, an organization which is fights hate and bigotry and seeks justice for the vulnerable in society. He served as the president of SPLC, and as a board member. “With Julian’s passing, the country has lost one of its most passionate and eloquent voices for the cause of justice. 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,” the SPLC’s Morris Dees said in a statement. “Not only has the country lost a hero today, we’ve lost a great friend.”

Moreover, Bond established his leadership at the NAACP, where he was charwoman from 1998 until Rosalyn Brock succeeded him in 2010.  Also a professor, Bond taught at American University, Drexel University, Williams College, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University and the University of Virginia.

A champion of gay rights and marriage equality, Bond said in a 2005 speech that “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.”

Further, Julian Bond was an effective communicator, not only through his role at SNCC, but as host of the public affairs television program, America’s Black Forum, narrator for the PBS series, Eyes on the Prize, and commentator for various news programs. “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. He was called upon time and again to write it, to express it,” said Eleanor Holmes Norton, who worked with Bond at SNCC, told the Washington Post.

“Julian Bond was courageous and had an uncompromising sense of justice,” Peter Gamble–publisher of BlackCommentator.com, where Bond was an editorial board member–told theGrio. Gamble, a veteran journalist, also co-founded America’s Black Forum. “We first met when Julian was in Washington DC and I was a radio news reporter there, covering various aspects of the civil rights and anti-war movements in the late 60s and early 70s. Over the years, he gave me several interviews, during which time we came to realize our common ground in the struggle for social justice, economic justice and peace. He could be counted on to provide a strong quote about whatever issue was in the news,” Gamble said.

Gamble also noted that Bond was known for his wit. He recalled a 2003 cartoon that BlackCommentator.com published about Janice Rogers Brown, who was nominated by then-President Bush to be a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. “Senator Orin Hatch, who was then the Chair of the Senate Judiciary committee, became very upset during Brown’s appointment hearing. We had called Ms. Brown a female Clarence Thomas, and had requested our cartoonist, Khalil Bendib, illustrate Brown as Thomas in a dress and fright wig,” Gamble added.

“During the hearing, Hatch repeated the name of our website very slowly, several times and displayed a huge blowup of the cartoon, cautioning, ‘Don’t go to BlackCommentator.com!’ Julian was watching the hearing on CSPAN and dashed off a note to me saying, ‘I don’t know how much you’re paying Orin Hatch for PR, but it’s worth every nickel,’” Gamble noted.

“Justice and equality was the mission that spanned his life,” President Obama said in a statement, calling the civil rights leader a hero. “Julian Bond helped change this country for the better.”

Friends and family remember Bond as one of the people behind the Black Lives Matter movement long before the days of hashtags and social media. Although he is no longer with us in bodily form, his long legacy serves as a blueprint for us to follow, as we fight the civil rights battles of a new generation.

Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove