Civil Rights Activist Julian Bond Dies at 75, Leaders Call Him ‘Hero’

By Sheryl Estrada

Julian Bond during the dedication the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. (Photo credit: Kadesh DuBose/KMBD Studios)

The Southern Poverty Law Center said in a statement on Sunday morning its co-founder, civil rights activist Julian Bond, died Saturday night in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., after a brief illness. He was 75.

“Not only has the country lost a hero today, we’ve lost a great friend,” SPLC co-founder Morris Dees wrote.

Bond was known for his charismatic and effective leadership in championing for civil rights in the U.S. and was admired among his friends.

President Obama said in a statement on Sunday, “Julian Bond was a hero and, I’m privileged to say, a friend. Justice and equality was the mission that spanned his life from his leadership of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, to his founding role with the Southern Poverty Law Center, to his pioneering service in the Georgia legislature and his steady hand at the helm of the NAACP.”

Bond was born on Jan. 14, 1940, in Nashville, Tenn.His familymoved to Pennsylvania when his father, Horace Mann Bond, became the first Black president of his alma mater, Lincoln University.

As a student attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga. in the 1960s, Bond was a co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).He put his studies on hold in 1961 to serve as the committee’s communication director on the front lines of protests leading to landmark civil rights laws.

Bond later returned to Morehouse and graduated in 1971 with a degree in English. The same year, he co-founded the SPLC and became its president. Bond served as president until 1979 and would remain on the board for the rest of his life.

“[Julian] advocated not just for African Americans, but for every group, indeed every person subject to oppression and discrimination, because he recognized the common humanity in us all,” said Dees.

Bond was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965, although white members of the House refused to seat him because of his opposition to the Vietnam War. In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the House had to seat him as it was denying Bond his freedom of speech.

In 1968, Bond led a delegation to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and was the first African American nominated for the vice presidency; however, he withdrew because he was too young.

He served in the Georgia House until 1975 and for six terms in the Georgia Senate from 1975 to 1986.

Bond ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986 to represent Georgia’s 5th Congressional District but narrowly lost to Rep. John Lewis, a long-time friend and SNCC co-founder.

In the ’80s and ’90s, Bond taught at American, Drexel, Williams, the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard universities and the University of Virginia.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch was inspired as an undergraduate student when she heard Bond speak.

“I will never forget hearing [Julian] Bond speak when I was a student in college, and he has remained a personal hero to me ever since,” Lynch said in a statement. “For me and for so many others, Bond’s words and deeds reached into our hearts and inspired us to take up his noble causes of equality, justice, and freedom.”

From 1980 to 1997, Bond hosted the TV show America’s Black Forum. He also narrated the award-winning TV series and documentary Eyes on the Prize. In 1998, Bond was elected board chairman of the NAACP and served for 11 years. He then continued as Chairman Emeritus.

“The arc of service ofChairman Emeritus Julian Bond’s life extends high and wide over America’s social justice landscape: as a young lieutenant of Martin Luther King Jr., gifted writer, eloquent speaker, esteemed professor, Georgia state senator, nominee for U.S. Vice President, revered civil rights leader, champion for marriage equality and well beloved NAACP Chairman Emeritus,” Cornell William Brooks, NAACP President and CEO Cornell, said in a statement.

His wife Pamela Horowitz, a former SPLC staff attorney, and his five children survive Bond.

Bond’s friends also shared comments on Twitter (#JulianBond):