Julian Bond

Julian Bond (born 1940) was a civil rights leader who was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965. Denied his seat because of his endorsement of an anti-Vietnam War statement, he was seated by the Supreme Court in the Georgia House one year after his election.

Horace Julian Bond, born on January 14, 1940, in Nashville, Tennessee, was the descendant of several generations of black educators and preachers. His father, Horace Mann Bond, was president of Fort Valley State College. When Bond's father was appointed to be the president of Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania, the family moved into an environment which was predominantly white. Bond's father caused quite a ferment at the university and in the surrounding community because of his protests against segregated facilities and white attitudes of racial superiority.

Young Julian, however, adjusted relatively easily to his new environment, attending elementary school with white children and winning the sixth grade award for being the brightest student in the class. He was sent to George School, a Quaker preparatory institution near Philadelphia, for his high school education. He encountered a few instances of racial prejudice during these years, but on the whole seemed to adjust well to the academic environment—although his grades were only average.

Civil Rights Movement

After deciding to attend Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, for his higher education, Bond was somewhat fearful about moving there because of the stories of racial violence he had heard. He began college in 1957 when the civil rights struggle was gaining momentum following the Supreme Court's 1954 school desegregation decision and the 1956 Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott led by Martin Luther King, Jr. In February 1960 four freshmen from North Carolina Agriculture and Technical College staged a sit-in at Woolworth's white-only lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, in order to force its desegregation. The daring action of these students captured the attention and imagination of black—and some white—students throughout the country.

Bond was swept into the incipient civil rights movement at Morehouse more as a coordinator and a spokesman than as a participant in the demonstrations and sit-ins. Bond was one of the founders of the organization directing the Atlanta student movement, which was called the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights. Because the students were so eager to be part of the civil rights movement, Ella Baker, secretary of the civil rights organization known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) suggested that interested students meet in 1960 at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, to coordinate their efforts. King, who was president of the SCLC; and James Lawson, Jr., a clergyman and an exponent of nonviolent resistance, spoke to the students, inviting them to become part of an existing civil rights organization. Several hundred students, Bond among them, finally decided that they would form their own organization, which they named the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Because of the abilities he had demonstrated working on student newspapers such as the Atlanta Inquirer, Bond was appointed communications director for SNCC, a position he held from 1960 until 1966. He became so active in the movement during these years that he dropped out of college and dedicated his time to articulating SNCC's goals in press releases, feature stories, and fliers. He did not complete his degree at Morehouse until 1971.

Georgia State Legislator

Southern segregation meant that black faces were virtually nonexistent in public office, as policemen or firemen, on school boards, on juries, or in bar associations. Few blacks could pass the rigorous voting rights tests or pay poll taxes. As hundreds of Georgia blacks became eligible to vote because of the efforts of civil rights activists, SNCC workers felt that it was important that black candidates seek elective offices. When they sought a candidate for a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965, the SNCC workers encouraged Bond to run. The Bond name was well known; Bond was articulate and physically attractive; and the workers felt that he would be able to capture the votes needed for victory.

Bond, only after much coaxing, agreed to enter the race. He was 25 years old. He canvassed the 136th legislative district door to door, gained the confidence of the people, and easily won the seat. Bond stated that, proportionately, more people had voted in his district than in any other district in the state. Just before the legislative session opened in 1966, Bond was called by a newsman and asked if he endorsed an anti-Vietnam War statement released by SNCC. Bond said that he had not seen the release, so the newsman read it to him. Bond then said that he basically agreed with it. Unknown to Bond, the interviewing newsman had taped the conversation. When the other Georgia legislators learned about the interview indicating Bond's support of anti-war activists, they formally barred him from the House. That decision was appealed, and eventually reached the Supreme Court. The Court supported Bond and ordered the Georgia House to restore his seat. He was installed in January 1967, over one year after his election victory.

Bond was interested in securing effective civil rights laws, improved welfare legislation, a minimum wage provision, the abolition of the death penalty, increased funding for schools, and anti-poverty and urban renewal programs for the benefit of his constituents. Bond wrote that street protests were moving indoors. He said that it was the time to "translate the politics of marches, demonstrations, and protests" into effective electoral instruments.

The 1968 Democratic Convention

In 1968 Bond was one of the leaders of a delegation to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago whose purpose was to challenge the all-white Georgia delegation led by Governor Lester Maddox and to insure that black voters were represented by black delegates. The delegation won half of the seats from the traditional delegates, and Bond was subsequently nominated to be vice president of the United States. He declined because he was only 28 years old and the Constitution stated that a vice presidential candidate had to be 35.

Later Years

As the 1970s got underway, Bond started to fade from public attention. He limited his focus to helping the predominantly poor residents of his district, concentrating on such issues as street paving and garbage collection. He was criticized for involving himself in many other causes, especially those facing black Atlanta, and it sometimes seemed apparent that he was not entirely interested in politics. Bond continued to express his views, writing and giving speeches, but his popularity was on the wane. He served in the Georgia House until 1975 and then won election to the Georgia Senate. In 1977 Keith Thomas of the Atlanta Constitution wrote that a former colleague of Bond in the Georgia House had described him as the most ineffective legislator in the state. In 1976 he rejected an opportunity to join the administration of President Jimmy Carter and subsequently found himself somewhat isolated politically.

In the 1980s Bond narrowly survived a challenge to his Senate seat by an opponent who, according to Thomas, "charged him with inaccessibility, absenteeism, and inattention to local concerns." In 1986 Bond gave up his Senate seat to run for U.S. Congress, but lost the Democratic primary to longtime friend and SNCC colleague, John Lewis. In 1987 Bond's marital problems became headline news when his wife charged him with adultery and cocaine use. The couple divorced in 1989 and, in a paternity suit the following year, Bond admitted to fathering the child of his alleged mistress and was ordered to pay child support.

Bond survived this difficult period of his life by continuing to write and speak. He narrated the highly acclaimed Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) documentary on the civil rights movement, Eyes on the Prize, hosted the television program America's Black Forum, wrote a nationally syndicated newspaper column titled "Viewpoint," and contributed numerous newspaper and magazine articles. Since 1988 Bond has taught as a visiting professor at Drexel University, Harvard University, Williams College, the University of Virginia, and American University. In 1995 he was elected to his fourth term on the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Bond has made it clear that it is unlikely that he will reenter politics. "I gave it 20 years. That's enough," he told the Atlanta Constitution. Yet, the former legislator believes his career is far from over. "If people remember me, I hope it's not for what I've already done, but what I'm still going to do. And what that is, I have no idea. But I expect to be going a lot longer."

Further Reading on Julian Bond

Bond wrote a book in which he discussed his political views from a historical perspective entitled A Time to Act; The Movement in Politics (1972). There is a full-length biography of Bond's accomplishments by age 31 written by John Neary called Julian Bond: Black Rebel (1971). Neary is somewhat critical of Bond and generally fails to recognize his leadership talents. Roger M. Williams wrote a far more analytical biography of several generations of the Bond family entitled The Bonds: An American Family (1971). However, Williams at times borrows heavily from Neary's account of Julian Bond's life.

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