The recent death of Julian Bond caused a righteous outpouring of honor and respect for a man who dedicated his life to human dignity and liberation. History provides some context for the courage and passion that he brought to a struggle that benefitted not only black Americans, but all Americans.
Julian Bond was born in 1940 and during the first ten years of his life over thirty black Americans would be lynched in this country. In the year that he was born Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president and during his entire thirteen year term in office he never supported a single anti-lynching bill that was proposed in Congress. And no anti-lynching bill has ever been passed.
The America into which Julian Bond was born was covered with the slime and ooze of sixty four years of legalized and institutionalized racism, segregation and bigotry, the horrid aftermath of Reconstruction. Julian Bond did not read about black and white water fountains, he drank from the black fountains. He did not hear stories about segregated schools, pools, universities and hotels – he attended those schools, swam in those pools only on “Negro days”, could not aspire to attend the public universities in the South and, if the opportunity had arisen, he could only stay in “Negro hotels”.
In 1951 when Julian Bond was eleven years old, Harry T. Moore, the head of the Brevard County (Florida) NAACP and leader of a black voter registration drive, was assassinated by the local sheriff. Harry T. Moore is a footnote to a footnote in the history of the civil rights movement and that sheriff never served a day in prison.
When Julian Bond was fourteen the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court declared that racially segregated public schools were unconstitutional. In 1955 when Julian Bond was fifteen Emmett Till was tortured and lynched in Mississippi, ostensibly for the unforgivable crime of whistling at a white woman.
Two years later, in 1957 when he was seventeen, Julian Bond watched with the rest of the country, indeed the rest of the world, when the National Guard and the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army were needed to guarantee the safety of nine black children whose parents had the temerity to want their children to go to a quality school in Little Rock, Arkansas that had been all white.
This was the America in which Julian Bond and all black Americans lived when he enrolled at Morehouse College soon thereafter. And it was in this cauldron of bubbling racist toil and trouble that he became one of the founding members of the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). Looking through the cloudy lens of the past it is difficult to comprehend the courage that Julian Bond, James Lewis, Stokely Carmichael possessed to even try to organize resistance to a brutal and malevolent regime that valued racism and racists practices over the lives of all black men, women and children.
Julian Bond is well remembered for his role as a member of the Georgia State Legislature, Chairman of the Board of the NAACP as well as being a co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. And well should he be remembered for these and his many other good deeds.
And, as we remember Julian Bond, we should take a moment to understand and comprehend the force and power and beauty and courage of his generation who confronted White Power when it was the law – and in a very real way prevailed.