Julian Bond, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), died Saturday night, August 15, at the age of 75.
Bond, a founding member and communications director of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and immediate past board chairman of the NAACP, is being praised for his lifelong human rights contributions by people ranging from President Obama, and his former civil rights colleagues, to ordinary people who have benefited from his courage and advocacy.
He served as the president of the SPLC, a legal advocacy organization that promotes equality and tracks hate groups, from 1971 to 1979 and later on the board of directors, according to a statement issued by the group.
“With Julian’s passing, the country has lost one of its most passionate and eloquent voices for the cause of justice,” SPLC said in a statement announcing Bond’s death. “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.
“Not only has the country lost a hero today, we’ve lost a great friend.”
President Obama said in a statement, “Julian Bond was a hero and, I’m privileged to say, a friend. Justice and equality was the mission that spanned his life from his leadership of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, to his founding role with the Southern Poverty Law Center, to his pioneering service in the Georgia legislature and his steady hand at the helm of the NAACP.
“Julian Bond helped change this country for the better. And what better way to be remembered than that.”
During his time with SNCC, Julian Bond protested against segregation of public facilities in Georgia and was arrested during a sit-in at Atlanta’s City Hall. Later, as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives, he was a vocal critic of the Vietnam War. When the White members of the House refused to seat him because of his opposition to the war, Bond took his case to the United States Supreme Court where he won a unanimous ruling in 1966, that said the legislature had violated the young lawmakers right to freedom of speech and ordered the state officials to seat him. Bond served in the Georgia’s House for a decade and went on to serve six terms in the state senate.
He ran for the United States House of Representatives, but lost a bitter race to John Lewis, a former colleague who had been chairman of SNCC.
Bond was not only a consistent agent for civil rights, he was also a writer, poet, author and professor at number of colleges and universities, including American University in Washington, D.C., the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University and the University of Virginia.
Bond also narrated “Eyes on the Prize,” a documentary on the Civil Rights Movement, that was nominated for an Academy Award in 1988.
Mary Frances Berry, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania and former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, recalled Bond challenging the credentials of the all-White Georgia delegation at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago and becoming the first African American nominated for vice president by a major party.
Rev. Amos Brown, who has known Bond since his days at Morehouse College, also remembers the importance of the Chicago convention.
“In Chicago, we were not just fighting for civil rights, we were fighting to empower Black people to be involved in the political process,” said Brown, a NAACP board member from San Francisco. “Back then, we were pushing for people to get registered to vote and to be engaged and fight against the political structure continuing to be a monopoly of power for Whites.
“He was a man beyond his years, in terms of his depth and breadth of understanding of the issues. That’s, why he was nominated. There was great agitation and protests and they were making waves as young people in the nation. The attitude was, ‘Why not?’”
Bond fell ill while on vacation and died from complications related to vascular disease in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., the Washington Post reported. Bond is survived by his wife, Pamela Horowitz, his five children and eight grandchildren.