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Civil Rights Community Mourns Death Of Julian Bond

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Civil Rights Community Mourns Death Of Julian Bond

Remembrances

Civil Rights Community Mourns Death Of Julian Bond

Civil Rights Community Mourns Death Of Julian Bond

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Former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Poverty Law Center. He was 75.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Here's one thing to remember about Julian Bond - the civil rights leader was less a figure of the past than of the present.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Bond died over the weekend at age 75 and remained vocal till the end. In recent years, he was urging civil rights activists to support same-sex marriage.

GREENE: His activism began in a very different time, and that's where NPR's Debbie Elliott picks up the story.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Julian Bond's activism started at Morehouse College during the early days of the civil rights movement. In a 2013 interview with NPR, Bond described joining with other students to protest segregated lunch counters in Georgia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

JULIAN BOND: That group began Atlanta's sit-in movement, and I was arrested for the first time at the Atlanta City Hall cafeteria then. And it launched me on a lifetime of movement activity.

ELLIOTT: Bond and others formed SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that staged sit-ins and voter registration drives and later organized Mississippi Freedom Summer to bring national attention to the brutal resistance to equal rights in the South. Bond was in charge of communications, recalls Judy Richardson, who worked at the national SNCC office. His job...

JUDY RICHARDSON: To get the story of this black-led civil rights movement out into the rest of the world.

ELLIOTT: She remembers him as a gifted storyteller, hard at work on a manual typewriter getting out the SNCC message.

RICHARDSON: Doing that two-finger typing and he could type faster with two fingers than anybody I know and this little cigarette hanging out with the ashes falling to the floor in this dinky little SNCC office.

ELLIOTT: During Freedom Summer in '64, Richardson says, Bond would interview white volunteers from the north and send the tapes to media outlets in their hometowns.

RICHARDSON: So that the community where he came - or she came from would care about the fact that people were being brutalized around getting the right to vote, and that was Julian's, you know, strategy.

ELLIOTT: Richardson says the tall and handsome Bond was a brilliant strategist and poetic writer. But what she remembers most vividly is his wry sense of humor. She says it's hard to imagine his voice now silenced.

RICHARDSON: It hasn't yet sunk in 'cause Julian was just funny as hell, you know, and he was always a presence. And it's - I don't know - it's hard.

ELLIOTT: Born Horace Julian Bond in Nashville, Tenn., in 1940, Bond's father was a college president and his mother a librarian. Celebrities and scholars such as W.E.B. DuBois were frequent houseguests in his youth. Bond first got involved in electoral politics in 1965. He was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in a newly apportioned seat, but had to fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep the post. Here's what he told me about that a couple of years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BOND: It was odd because, you know, they put me out - they expelled me because I was opposed to the war in Vietnam - and declared my seat vacant. I ran for the vacancy. I won. They threw me out again. I ran a third time and won. And when I finally got in, I think most of my white colleagues treated me as a real curiosity.

ELLIOTT: Bond gained national attention in 1968 when he led an alternate integrated Georgia delegation to the Democratic National Convention and got nominated from the floor for vice president.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We offer in nomination, with the greatest pleasure, the name of Julian Bond.

(APPLAUSE)

ELLIOTT: He was the first African-American nominated for vice president, but it was a symbolic act. At 27, Bond was too young to qualify for vice president. He told Dan Rather on CBS the nomination was an opportunity. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: We incorrectly state that Julian Bond was 27 years old when he was nominated for vice president at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Bond was 28 years old at the time.]

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOND: To address this body and through the medium of television other people in the nation about some of the issues that are not being discussed here.

DAN RATHER: Which are?

BOND: Which are poverty, racism, war. They're really...

ELLIOTT: The appearance caught the attention of Montgomery attorney Morris Dees, who went on to co-found the Southern Poverty Law Center. He recruited Bond to be the organization's first president. Dees says he stayed active on its board of directors until his death.

MORRIS DEES: I don't think I've ever seen anybody that's a better champion of people who have few champions than Julian Bond.

ELLIOTT: In the late 1990s, Bond began a decade as chairman of the NAACP. He had a reputation as a calm leader, not afraid to engage his opponents or offend his constituents. Dees says Bond was driven to speak out against inequality in all forms - most recently, sexual orientation.

DEES: When African-American leaders, especially in the NAACP and others who were slow to see rights for the LGBT community, same-sex marriage and other things as akin to the rights that they'd obtained, Julian Bond stood out front and spoke out.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

BOND: My name is Julian Bond. As chairman emeritus of the NAACP...

ELLIOTT: Bond recorded this video for the human rights campaign in 2011.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

BOND: 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.

ELLIOTT: Bond recently taught civil rights history at the University of Virginia and would lead annual pilgrimages south to tour key landmarks from the movement. Writer Charlie Cobb, a former SNCC field secretary, says Bond was also involved in a SNCC legacy project that connects with young activists, including those in the Black Lives Matter movement. Cobb says the arc of Bond's career is a lesson.

CHARLIE COBB: That young people committed to change can actually make a difference, and that struggle continues from youth to old age.

ELLIOTT: Bond in 2013 told me those first sit-in leaders may have had their sights on hamburgers and Coca-Colas, but the ultimate prize was something much bigger.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BOND: I think we knew we were making enormous changes, but our initial goals were sort of small - integrating lunch counters. But, of course, that meant really integrating all of society in the end.

ELLIOTT: President Obama called Julian Bond a hero who helped change the country for the better. He said what better way to be remembered than that. Debbie Elliott, NPR News.

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