People For the American Way

PFAW Mourns Julian Bond, Civil Rights Icon and Longtime Board Member

Julian Bond, a monumental figure of the civil rights movement and a longtime board member of People For the American Way, passed away at the age of 75 on Saturday. The following is a note that PFAW President Michael Keegan sent to PFAW members:

Dear PFAW member,

Longtime People For the American Way board member Julian Bond died on Saturday at the age of 75.

President Obama rightly called him a hero in his statement yesterday, and said, “Justice and equality was the mission that spanned his life … Julian Bond helped change this country for the better. And what better way to be remembered than that.”

Julian was both a towering figure of the civil rights movement and a deeply humble man who was eager to contribute to the work of our organization.

There is much being written and talked about in tribute to Julian. He made history over and over again and was a force for progress in everything he did, whether as a student organizer and founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee … or as the founding president of the Southern Poverty Law Center … or as the longtime chairman of the NAACP … or as a Georgia state legislator.

This passage from a Sunday piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution provides a wonderful window into the progressive change to which Julian devoted his life:

After Selma and the passing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, African-Americans around the South were finally able to run for office.

Bond was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965, one of 11 who were the first black members elected to the Georgia Assembly in 58 years, the result of reapportionment and a special election after the Voting Rights Act.

“It was exciting to be a pathbreaker,” he said.

However, just before he was to be seated in 1966, Bond voiced support for a SNCC statement that denounced U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and sympathized with draft evasion. As a result, members of the Georgia Legislature accused Bond of treason and disorderly conduct, voting 184-12 to bar him from being seated.

Four days later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a march of 1,000 people to the Georgia Capitol protesting Bond’s ouster.

For the next year Bond pushed his case through the judiciary system all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he fought for his right to speak his mind in Bond v. Floyd. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously for him.

Julian was a leader for whom intersectionality was not a buzzword, but a principle he felt at the core of his being. He saw all the issues we work on as connected by a broad commitment to human dignity and equality.

I was reminded by a colleague over the weekend about Julian’s decision not to attend the 2006 funeral for Coretta Scott King because it was being held in the church run by a minister who was, in Julian’s words, a "raving homophobe.” Julian thought that Coretta Scott King, as a vocal advocate for LGBT equality, would be "twisting in her grave" about having her funeral there, and said he would twist in his if he attended. That was an incredibly powerful statement and act of solidarity with LGBT people, one that required personal sacrifice.

Especially at this important time in history, the nation and certainly this organization will miss the wisdom and guidance of Julian Bond. Thank you for all you do to help America live up to the ideals he championed.

Sincerely,
Michael Keegan, President

P.S. Many of America’s top news outlets are paying tribute to Julian with coverage, and I hope you’ll take a few minutes of your day to read a little bit about a dear friend and a man the AJC called a “civil rights titan.”

Here are just a couple of articles from:

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution>>

The Washington Post>>