By George E. Curry
Horace Julian Bond was born Jan. 14, 1940 in Nashville, Tenn. into a family of privilege. His father, Horace Mann Bond, was a noted educator who served as president of Fort Valley State University in Georgia, where such notables as W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Robeson were frequent guests.
During their formative years, most Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), established during the Reconstruction Era to provide higher education for formerly enslaved African Americans, were headed by Whites. Bond’s father was the first Black president of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, his alma mater. His mother, Julia, was a librarian.
Young Julian was sent off to George School, a private Quaker boarding school near Philadelphia, and later enrolled in Morehouse College. At Morehouse, Bond chose a life of activism that would become the hallmark of his life.
This is significant because many Blacks born into a life of privilege distanced themselves from the nascent Civil Rights Movement.
I remember how incensed I became when Condoleezza Rice boasted in a Washington Post interview that “My parents were very strategic. I was going to be so well prepared, and I was going to do all of these things that were revered in white society so well, that I would be armored somehow from racism…”
And it got worse, as I noted in a column on Rice.
Referring to Rev. John W. Rice, Jr., she said, “My father was not a march-in-the-street preacher. He saw no reason to put children at risk. He would never put his own child at risk.”
Julian Bond’s father, who had more blue blood credentials than Rev. Rice, obviously instilled a different set of values in him.
Bond dropped out of Morehouse College to join the Civil Rights Movement, first as co-founder of the Atlanta Student Movement that organized local sit-ins on the heels of the 1960 lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, N.C. He was also a co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
It was in his capacity as communications director of SNCC that I first met Julian Bond during the summer of 1966, after I had completed my freshman year of college. I spent that summer as a volunteer in the Atlanta headquarters, watching him interact with the media and carefully polishing SNCC’s national image.
Julian also wrote poetry. I don’t remember many of his poems, but I still recall part of one we recited all summer:
Look at that girl shake that thing,
We can’t all be Martin Luther King.
Don’t ask me why I remember that nearly 50 years later.
In SNCC, Julian was not a key organizer, as some stories have suggested. The organization had legions of field organizers who became legends in the movement, including Bob Moses, Cleveland Sellers and Courtland Cox. Julian’s role was to communicate SNCC’s message to the media – and he did that well.
The incident that catapulted Bond to international fame was his opposition to the Vietnam War. Dr. King did not publicly turn against the Vietnam War until his speech at Riverside Church in New York on April 4, 1967, exactly a year before his assassination. In 1965, Julian was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives. Shortly before he was scheduled to take office, he endorsed a statement by SNCC opposing the Vietnam War.
The Georgia House accused Bond of treason and refused to seat him. A federal appeals court upheld the decision. But on Dec. 5, 1966, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld his right to free speech or ordered Georgia to seat him. Bond spent two decades in the state House and Senate.
Perhaps his lowest point came when Bond and former SNCC chairman John Lewis competed for the same Congressional seat in Georgia. Bond’s estranged wife charged – and later recanted – that Julian was a habitual user of cocaine. Lewis challenged him to a urine test. Julian replied he would agree on one condition – that Lewis hold the cup. There was no drug test and John Lewis went on to defeat Bond and remains in office today.
In one of at least four tweets Lewis sent after Bond’s death, he said, “We went through a difficult period during our campaign for Congress in 1986, but many years ago we emerged even closer.”
Though he never ran for public office again, Julian Bond found other paths to public service, serving as board chairman of the NAACP for 11 years, being co-founder and a trustee of the Southern Poverty Law Center, hosting “America’s Black Forum” television program, teaching, and in demand on the lecture circuit.
Several years ago, Jesse Jackson, who is not prone to giving out compliments, said to me unprompted: “Julian is always right on public policy. I can’t think of one time I have disagreed with a position he has taken.”
For that, we all can all be grateful. And we can be grateful that instead of retreating to a life of privilege, Julian’s entire adult life was dedicated to fighting injustice.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and BlackPressUSA.com. He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, http://www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at http://www.twitter.com/currygeorgeand George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook. See previous columns at http://www.georgecurry.com/columns.