Julian Bond was one of the most prominent and personable leaders who rose out of the student civil rights movement of 1960, the year he was first arrested in an Atlanta sit-in.
I first met him in a living room of his family home, a setting filled with books and intense conversation about the choices awaiting a new generation turning twenty. Above all was the personal question - what to risk in order to stop the brutal, numbing advance of Jim Crow over black lives.
Julian was at the center of the handful that formed the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, with its two prongs of direct action and voter registration in the black belt. A "blood oath" was taken among the tiny vanguard to win voting rights in five years or die trying. Deaths did occur but the voting rights protections were achieved; a historic breakthrough that lasted 50 years before it’s undermining by the recent revival of "the New Jim Crow" regime.
Julian was a threat to the segregationist order from the moment he appeared during the sit-ins. He instinctively knew that the vote would require a new generation of leaders for which to vote. He was elected to the Georgia state house in 1965. His seating was refused, not only because he was black but also because he and SNCC opposed the Vietnam War and the draft, the first young civil rights leaders to do so.
Democracy prevailed when the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ordered Georgia to restore his democratic election. It was a huge victory for the movement, including the anti-Vietnam war movement as well. Dissent from the war by Muhammad Ali and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would follow, and a spreading dissent against Vietnam by people of color in the armed services on many bases and brigs.
Not only did Julian open a path from protest to politics, he soon became the magnet for all those seeking new national leadership. During the tumultuous democratic convention of 1968, he became a popular vice presidential candidate. Eventually he passed on the option, partly because he was too young, but the myth was born that a "new generation of leadership" was on the rise.
Julian served two decades in the Georgia legislature, lost a close congressional race to his old friend from SNCC, John Lewis, but held a leading role in the national NAACP for decades to come. He was on the leading edge of every social movement to the moment of his death.
Despite heart issues, he responded positively to an invitation to speak in Washington at the 50 anniversary of the first national protest march against the war in Vietnam. On May 2nd nearly 1,000 people held vigil under azure blue skies, rolling clouds, and the imposing Martin Luther King Jr. memorial monument to hear Julian give his final speech. It was unforgettable.
The message to be communicated was that civil rights, equality and peace are indivisible. Julian Bond wanted his audience to keep the memory that he, like his friend dr. King and many others thought of themselves in the passage of time, not only students, scholars or civil rights leaders, but as peace and justice leaders who gave their lives to a cause worth living and dying for.
Praise and glory to Horace Julian Bond for the days he spent among us.