Monday was the federal holiday honoring the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. My previous article, posted on January 15 (his actual birthday), was partly about King and the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech he gave in 1964.
This article is about Julian Bond, one of King’s younger co-workers in the civil rights struggle. Bond was born on January 14, 1940, the day before King’s 11th birthday. In addition to being a premier civil rights leader, Bond was also a politician and a college professor. He died on August 15, 2015.
Like King, Bond went to Morehouse College in Atlanta. While a student there in 1960, Bond helped establish the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Because of his extensive involvement in the civil rights movement and his political activities, he didn’t graduate from Morehouse until 1971.
After passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, Bond was one of eleven African Americans elected to the Georgia House of Representatives. Even though he had not yet finished college, he ran for a House seat in November 1965 and won.
But the Georgia House overwhelmingly refused to seat him in January 1966. They took that action because Bond had publicly endorsed SNCC’s strong opposition to the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
Bond and MLK Jr. cast their ballots in Atlanta
to fill Bond’s “vacant” seat for the Georgia House.
Not only did Bond approve of SNCC’s anti-Vietnam War statement, he was a pacifist—as he publicly stated that same month on “Meet the Press.” In that interview he said he developed his pacifist views at the Quaker high school he had attended.
Since the Georgia House declared that Bond was not suitable to be seated, an election was held to fill the vacancy. Bond was elected again. The House refused to seat him again, so another election was held. And guess what: Bond was elected for the same seat a third time!
The standoff was settled when the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Bond’s First Amendment rights were being violated and that he could not be barred from serving in the Georgia House. So Bond was finally seated as a state representative.
Bond served in the Georgia House for nine years and then went on to serve in the Georgia Senate from 1975 to 1986. During his tenure in the state legislature, Bond wrote over 60 bills that were ratified as law.
His political career came to an end in 1986 when he narrowly lost his bid for the U.S. House to John Lewis, the seat that Lewis still holds after 30 years.
In 1971, the year he graduated from college, Bond co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center with Morris Dees, a lawyer, and served as the president from its beginning until 1979. Then toward the end of his career, Bond was chairman of the NAACP from 1998 to 2010.
Bond began his teaching career in 1988. He taught as several different universities, but mainly at the University of Virginia from which he retired, and was made professor emeritus, in 2012.
Yes, Julian was a good Bond who deserved the many honors he received, including 28 honorary degrees and a 2008 Library of Congress Living Legend Award. His contributions to racial equality and social justice in this country were significant, indeed, and I am happy to honor his memory here.
But from what I heard at MLK Jr. programs over the past weekend, there still is much that needs to be done for racial equality and justice.