Remembering Civil Rights Icon Julian Bond

Aug 16, 2015
Originally published on August 17, 2015 3:17 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit


Civil rights icon and former NAACP chairman Julian Bond has died at the age of 75. Bond passed away Saturday night in Florida after a brief illness. For decades, he was involved in a broad struggle for equal rights. NPR's Sam Sanders has this remembrance.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: In 1960, Julian Bond helped cofound the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. SNCC helped bring youth to leadership in the civil rights movement, which at that time was pretty middle-aged. In hindsight, Julian Bond said what SNCC did was in a way incredible.


JULIAN BOND: Well, I think our greatest triumph was that we existed at all.

SANDERS: That's Bond in a 2010 interview with NPR's Talk Of The Nation.


BOND: These young people of college age, some of high school age, put together an organization against the advice of our elders, dropped out of college, many of us against the advice of our parents, created an organization that dared to go into the rural South, where resistance to racial justice was at its greatest.

SANDERS: During the same time, Bond became a major protester against the war in Vietnam. In a 1967 interview at Western Washington University, Bond drew parallels between the civil rights movement and the war.


BOND: We ought not be there. We ought to disengage ourselves. And there will never be decent treatment for minority peoples in this country until we begin to concentrate on freedom and justice and equality for those at home and stop worrying about dictatorships and despotic governments in in Southeast Asia.

SANDERS: In the midst of all this activism, Bond was elected to the Georgia State House of Representatives in 1965. But white members of the Georgia House refused to seat him. They accused him of disloyalty over his civil rights work and his views on Vietnam. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled they had to let him in. Bond served 20 years in the Georgia state legislature. In 1968, Bond was nominated for vice president at the Democratic National Convention. But CBS's Dan Rather pointed out from the convention floor that there was no way Bond could make the ballot.


DAN RATHER: How old are you?

BOND: I'm 28.

RATHER: And how old does the vice president - legally, does he have to be by the Constitution?

BOND: Thirty-five, I believe.

SANDERS: Bond told Rather that even if he couldn't run, he really wanted the opportunity to speak out on TV about issues he held dear.


BOND: Poverty, racism, war - there really have not been a great deal of free discussion about them, I don't think.

SANDERS: This was classic Bond - always connecting multiple struggles, seamlessly almost, in his work. In the 1970s, Bond helped found another civil rights organization - the Southern Poverty Law Center. In 1998, he became chairman of the NAACP and served in that role for 10 years. All the while, Bond wrote books, taught at several colleges and became a regular on the lecture circuit. As the rights issues of the day changed, Bond kept up. When black civil rights leadership was slow to push for gay rights in America, Bond called those leaders out, like in this 2012 CNN interview.


BOND: They've adopted our songs; we ought to be happy. They've adopted our slogans; we ought to be happy. And when others imitate what we did to gain their rights, we ought to be first in line to say can I help you. You helped me. Can I help you?

SANDERS: Bond never really stopped. Just two years ago he was arrested at the White House during a demonstration over the Keystone Pipeline. Some of the protesters used plastic ties to chain themselves to the White House gates. Bond and organizer Bill McKibben ended up in the same police vehicle.


BILL MCKIBBEN: Sitting there in the paddy wagon - talked beautifully about the connection of struggles. The civil rights struggle and the fight for a livable environment and the fight of economic equality and things were all part of the same broad struggle in a very deep way.

SANDERS: A 73-year-old Julian Bond in handcuffs with a stranger speaking to the theme of his entire life with clarity that many struggles for rights across the globe are and always have been connected. Sam Sanders, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.