Honoring the Legacy of Julian Bond


Civil rights champion Julian Bond passed away Saturday night at age 75. EJI joins the nation in grieving his loss and remembering his inspired leadership and unrivaled commitment to justice.

Born on January 14, 1940, in Nashville, Tennessee, Horace Julian Bond was the great-grandson of an enslaved woman and son of a college president. He spent his childhood in Pennsylvania before returning to the South, where he attended Morehouse College in Atlanta. He helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and, as its communications director, became a leading voice in the movement for equal rights.

In Atlanta, he was arrested while leading a sit-in at the segregated City Hall cafeteria, and he spent most of the 1960s organizing protests and registering Black voters. He left SNCC after it reorganized under leadership that excluded white members.

Mr. Bond made a habit of being refused a seat in the Georgia legislature: as a student, he visited the Georgia House of Representatives and sat in the whites-only visitors’ section, only to be escorted out by Capitol police. He was elected to that body in 1965, but white members refused to let him take his seat until the Supreme Court unanimously ordered them to do so in 1966. He served for six terms, sponsoring legislation to establish a sickle cell anemia testing program and to provide low-income home loans to low-income families in Georgia, and creating a majority-Black congressional district in Atlanta.

At 28, he became a national figure when he was nominated for vice president at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. He was too young to meet the constitutional age requirement, but he continued to use television appearances, lectures, articles, and columns to keep the national spotlight focused on racial inequality. Over the years, he taught generations of students at Harvard, Williams, Drexel, the University of Pennsylvania, American University, and the University of Virginia to recognize and confront injustice. Most recently, he was involved in a SNCC legacy project that engages with young activists, including those in the Black Lives Matter movement.

He co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, and served as its president from 1971 to 1979. Mr. Bond was made chairman of the NAACP in 1998. He spoke out against inequality in all forms, including discrimination against members of the LGBT community. In 2011, as the NAACP’s chairman emeritus, he said in a video for the Human Rights Campaign, “Gay and lesbian couples have the same values as everyone else: love, commitment, and stable families. They should have the same right to marry as the rest of us.”

In a statement on Sunday, President Obama recognized Mr. Bond as a hero. “Justice and equality was the mission that spanned his life,” the president said. “Julian Bond helped change his country for the better. And what better way to be remembered than that.”