Born On This Day in 1940: Civil Rights Activist, SNCC Leader, and Former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

As time passes, it becomes easier and easier to venerate only those we habitually do and forget about those who fought the same fight but perhaps didn’t have as prominent a position in the battle.

So today, a week before we will all – rightfully – celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his significant contributions to the betterment of this nation, I want to focus on one of his brothers-in-arms, the charismatic lecturer, activist, freedom fighter and leader in his own right, Julian Bond.

Horace Julian Bond was born Jan. 14, 1940, in Nashville, Tennessee and passed in 2015 in Fort Walton Beach, Florida at the age of 75. His father, Horace Mann Bond, rose to become the first African-American president of his alma mater, Lincoln University. Though his father expected Julian to follow in his footsteps as an educator (which he eventually did), as a young man, Bond instead was attracted to political activism.

While a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Bond became one of original leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  In 1960, after word spread of student sit-ins at lunch counters in Greensboro, N.C., Bond and others at Morehouse organized protests against segregated public facilities in Atlanta. Bond dropped out of Morehouse in 1961 to devote himself to the protest movement, but returned in the 1970s to complete his English degree.

Among the sit-ins and protests, Bond worked to register voters and in 1965 was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives. White members of the House refused to let him take his seat, accusing him of disloyalty, as Bond and SNCC were known for their stand against United States involvement in the Vietnam War.

His case against the House of Representatives went to all the way to the Supreme Court. In a unanimous decision in 1966, the Court ordered the Georgia state legislature to seat Bond on the grounds that it was denying Bond freedom of speech.

Bond served 20 years in the two houses of the legislature and while a lawmaker, he sponsored bills to establish and fund a sickle cell anemia testing program and to provide low-interest home loans to low-income Georgians. He also helped create a majority-black congressional district in Atlanta.

Bond also became a co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a legal advocacy organization based in Montgomery, Alabama, and served as its president from 1971 to 1979. He remained on its board for the rest of his life.

Bond published a book of essays titled “A Time to Speak, A Time to Act” about politics and the movement, and in 1998, Bond became chairman of the NAACP, serving in that position until 2010. Through the years, Bond also taught at Harvard, Williams, Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania.

While at Harvard, I had the personal honor and pleasure not only from taking a class from Bond, but also in taking him up on his offer to call him for dinner so he could spend time with and speak directly to his students. He didn’t give his office number – I didn’t speak to an assistant – I spoke to his wife, and then him.

Bond came to my dorm and had dinner with me and half a dozen other undergrads. He was kind, patient, thoughtful and wry – he answered all types of questions about MLK, SNCC and anything else we asked. What struck me the most when I wasn’t in complete awe, was how real and unassuming he was. No bluster, no overinflated sense of importance – just a man about the work he had done and was still doing until the day he died.

Julian Bond, thank you for your example, your service and for taking the time to make this then awkward undergraduate feel a little less awkward and that much more empowered. You are not and never will be forgotten.

2 thoughts on “Born On This Day in 1940: Civil Rights Activist, SNCC Leader, and Former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond”

  1. I was able to attend a discussion in NYC with Julian Bond, Harry Belafonte and Clarence Jones, Dr. King’s lawyer. John Lewis was scheduled to appear but something was going on in DC so he couldn’t make it. It was an honor to be in their presence and Julia Bond is one of MANY veterans of the civil rights movement who formed an army of unsung heroes and there are even more unsung women warriors. I hope their names are restored to their rightful place in the history of this country.

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