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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 21, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 34
Civil rights veteran Julian Bond dies at 75
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Civil rights veteran Julian Bond dies at 75

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Civil rights veteran Julian Bond died on August 15 at the age of 75.

Bond was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), one of the more radical civil rights groups in the early '60s. The group and its leaders advocated direct action against racist Southern institutions and clashed with the more moderate Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) headed by Martin Luther King Jr.

Bond later ran for political office and served in the Georgia state legislature for 20 years (1967-1987). He was also founding president of the Southern Poverty Law Center (1971-1979) and chair of the NAACP (1998-2009).

Bond was also an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights.

'African-Americans,' Bond said in 2004, 'were the only Americans who were enslaved for two centuries, but we were far from the only Americans suffering discrimination then and now....

'Sexual disposition parallels race. I was born this way. I have no choice. I wouldn't change it if I could. Sexuality is unchangeable.'

In 2006, Bond boycotted funeral services for Coretta Scott King because her children held the funeral at an anti-Gay megachurch, which, Bond said, conflicted with their mother's long-standing support for LGBT rights.

In a 2007 speech to the Martin Luther King Day Celebration at Clayton State University in Georgia, Bond said flatly, 'If you don't like gay marriage, don't get gay married.'

Bond's open support for the LGBT community again pitted him against the SCLC, which supported the anti-marriage equality Prop 8 in California.

Some of Bond's choices also pitted him against former friends and allies from the sixties, notably John Lewis, former SNCC chair and now a congressman.

In 1986 Bond and Lewis both ran for the same Congressional seat - Georgia's 5th District, the same one Lewis still serves. Bond came first in the primary, but Lewis upset him in the runoff, winning the seat by four points.

For Lewis, the race brought up old class resentment against Bond that had, perhaps, festered since their SNCC days. Lewis, the son of sharecroppers, had to work hard for everything he achieved. To him it seemed that Bond, the son of a black college president, was part of a privileged elite that claimed leadership as a birthright.

'Julian enjoyed being a star,' Lewis wrote in his autobiography, Walking With the Wind. 'He approached his work as if it were an inconvenience. Everything had always come easily for Julian; sweating was not something he liked to do.

'And yet now he wanted to be a congressman. And everyone assumed he would be a shoo-in. And that bothered me a great deal.'

In spite of the personal resentments, Lewis and Bond were very closely aligned politically, and they healed their rift in the years after the 1986 election.

'Julian Bond was one of a kind,' Lewis said in a statement after Bond's death. 'We worked together in the Civil Rights Movement, and he became one of my closest and dearest friends. He was so smart, so gifted, and so talented. He was deeply committed to making our country a better country. He never ever became bitter or hostile. We were friends, but we became more like brothers in the struggle.

'We went through a difficult period during the campaign for Congress in 1986, but many years ago we emerged from that experience even closer than before. His leadership and his spirit will be deeply missed.'

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