Today, we remember the life of civil rights leader Julian Bond who died Saturday. He was 75.
Bond’s work, which spanned more than five decades, has been described as “visionary” and “radical.” While Bond got his start organizing with and for black people, the impact of his work had wide reach. And, in his own words, he stressed the importance of fighting to claim the rights for all people.
“There is no burden that wears on an individual like discrimination. And for millions of Americans, that burden limits their potential and stifles their possibilities. We can do far better. And there’s no better time than the present.” (7/8/15)
“I understand particularly if you’re black and you like to think of the civil rights (movement) as something black people do,” Bond said in a 2013 interview about the impact of Roe v. Wade. “But this is not something we own. It’s something we ought to share with others and say ‘Try this, we did this and it worked, try this, don’t do this, it didn’t work that well.’ Other things we ought to say to people, ‘Do what we did, we will help you if we can, and remember, we are among you.’”
Bond’s death was announced late Saturday by the Southern Poverty Law Center, where he was its first president and remained a board member and president emeritus until his death. The notice was met with tributes by public officials and civil rights organizations.
“Julian must be remembered as one who inspired another generation of young people to stand up, to speak up and speak out,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). “He traveled all over America, speaking on college campuses, but also to large groups…for peace, for nonviolence and for protecting the environment.”
Bond and Lewis helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, alongside other young leaders including Ella Baker and Stokely Carmichael. This was the beginning of Bond’s lifelong commitment to activism.
In his work with SNCC he first showed the importance of drawing attention to the violence and discrimination inflicted on people of color as a key part of the strategy to end legal segregation in the South and win civil rights victories, more broadly.
In 2000, Bond said in an interview that his work with SNCC was about physical and mental struggle.
“A final SNCC legacy is the destruction of the psychological shackles which had kept black southerners in physical and mental peonage; SNCC helped break those chains forever,” he said. “It demonstrated that ordinary women and men, young and old, could perform extraordinary tasks.”
This “ordinary man performing extraordinary tasks” served as chairman of the NAACP from 1998 until 2009 and was a skilled communicator and media personality.
One thing—among many—that is so striking about Julian Bond’s biography was how young he was when he accomplished so much of what he is known for. He was:
- 20 when he help found SNCC;
- 25 when he was first elected to the Georgia House of Representatives;
- 28 when he led the alternate delegation of Georgians to the notorious 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago (where he was also nominated to serve as vice president, though he was seven years too young);
- 31 when he served as SPLC’s first president (and he went back to Morehouse to graduate this same year).
His leadership demonstrated that the value of decades of on-the-ground exertion and resistance is immeasurable. In an op-ed earlier this year in The Advocate, his words were as resolute and relevant as ever.
“There is no burden that wears on an individual like discrimination. And for millions of Americans, that burden limits their potential and stifles their possibilities,” he wrote. “We can do far better. And there’s no better time than the present.”