I awoke this morning to discover that Julian Bond has passed away due to an undisclosed illness. He was 75. Bond came to my attention, as he did with most of America, during the contentious 1968 Democratic National Convention where “contrary to his intentions, he became the first African American to be proposed as a major party candidate for Vice President of the United States. While expressing gratitude for the honor, the 28-year-old Bond quickly declined, citing the constitutional requirement that one must be at least 35 years of age to serve in that office.” (1) The convention, conducted amid the tumult of the Vietnam War and the resulting Police Riot in the streets of host-city Chicago, subsequently nominated Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine for Vice President joining Hubert Humphrey at the top of the ticket. A team that would subsequently suffer a narrow loss to Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew.
By 1968, Bond, at the young age of 28, had already achieved a great deal. In 1960 he was one of the founding members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, a group that would quickly take to the ramparts and become the vanguard of the movement to register black voters in the heart of Dixie, as well as leading protests in several states to end segregation in public places. Elected in 1965 as one of eleven African-Americans to the Georgia House of Representatives, the Georgia State Legislature “voted 184-12 not to seat him because he had publicly endorsed SNCC’s policy regarding opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War” (2) and expressing sympathy for those ‘unwilling to respond to a military draft” (3). This action was ultimately overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States when in 1966 it ruled in Bond v. Floyd “that the Georgia House of Representatives had denied Bond his freedom of speech and was required to seat him. (4) He subsequently served 4 terms in the Georgia House and from 1975-1987 he served six terms in the Georgia State Senate.
Bond also taught at several universities including American University, Drexel, Harvard and the University of Virginia. (5) More recently he served for 12 years as the chairman of the NAACP, after having been the first President of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Always a man of principle, in 1967 he was one of eleven House members who refused to vote “when the legislature elected segregationist Lester Maddox…as Governor of Georgia”, (7) after the election, in which neither major candidate won a clear majority of the vote, was left for the legislature to decide. Later he boycotted the funeral services for Coretta Scott King because “the King children had chosen an anti-gay megachurch” in which to hold the services. (7)
A voice of reason in unreasonable times, a gentleman, a scholar, a warrior for righteous cause. We have been enriched by his presence and will be the poorer now.