Many of us wouldn’t want to meet the renowned leaders who we most respect because we suspect we’d be disappointed no matter how iconic they are.
Yet, anyone who believes in justice, appreciates humor, and relishes poetry, would have loved to have a taken a selfie with Julian Bond, the civil rights leader, former NAACP chairman, marriage equality supporter, TV commentator and poet, who died at 75 on Aug. 15 from vascular disease complications.
Bond was a student of Martin Luther King, Jr. at Morehouse College. After dropping out to work with SNCC, Bond received his bachelor’s from Morehouse in 1971. In 1965, Bond at 25 was elected to the Georgia State Legislature where he served for 20 years. In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against white legislators who said he shouldn’t be seated. During the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Bond, at age 28, was nominated for vice president. Though Bond was too young to be vice president, his nomination was a powerful statement of protest.
Bond was NAACP chair from 1998 to 2010. He taught at the University of Virginia and American University. He’s featured in the new documentary “Rosenwald” on Julius Rosenwald, a philanthropist, who funded schools for African Americans in the Jim Crow South.
“Julian Bond was a hero and, I’m privileged to say, a friend,” President Obama said of Bond in a statement. “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 Project. ”
“Julian Bond was one of a kind,” tweeted Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who defeated Bond in a close 1986 congressional race. “We worked together in the Civil Rights Movement and he became one of my closest and dearest friends.”
Lots of us in phases of our lives join flash mob protests for social change, campaign for our fave presidential candidate, engage in politics or work with low-paying, socially engaged non-profits. After these stints end, many of us move on to other things. Equal rights advocacy wasn’t a mere phase for Bond. For more than half a century, narrating the award-winning PBS documentary “Eyes on the Prize” to teaching at the University of Virginia and American University, he worked for social justice.
Some people who we admire lack charisma or a sense of humor. This wasn’t the case with Bond, who in 1977 was the first black political leader to appear on “Saturday Night Live.” Cosmopolitan magazine said he was one of the 10 sexiest men in the country. In his youth, his friend Charlayne Hunter-Gault recalled in the New Yorker, Bond wrote this poem at a party, “See that girl/Shake that thing./We can’t all be/Martin Luther King.”
“Julian was more ensconced in the movement for human rights throughout his lifetime than any of us,” Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington, D.C.’s delegate to Congress, said of Bond to NPR.
Bond passionately believed in justice for everyone – including LGBT people. “God seems to have made room in his plan for same-sex marriage,” he wrote in a 2011 letter to the editor of the Baltimore Sun. “He will no doubt do the same for same-sex marriage.”
“As chairman emeritus of the NAACP, I know a little something about fighting for what’s right and just,” Bond said in a 2011 Marylanders for Marriage Equality video.
HRC President Chad Griffin said of Bond in a statement, “Future generations will look back on his life…and see a warrior for good who helped conquer hate in the name of love.”
Julian Bond, RIP.
Kathi Wolfe, a writer and poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.