Julian Bond: Death of a civil rights icon

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Civil rights legend Julian Bond was ahead of the pack in supporting gay marriage. 
Photo Jim Hall Civil rights legend Julian Bond was ahead of the pack in supporting gay marriage. Photo Jim Hall

President Barack Obama called Julian Bond “a hero,” and many thought the man who was the telegenic face of the civil rights movement since he co-founded Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s would be America’s first black president.

Bond, who was professor emeritus at UVA, died August 15 at age 75 following a short illness.

His many accomplishments include founding the Southern Poverty Law Center and serving as president of the NAACP from 1998 to 2010. He was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965, and his white colleagues refused to seat him because of his opposition to the Vietnam War. He took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor and he was finally seated in 1967, and served in the Georgia legislature until 1985.

In 2002, Bond told this reporter the accomplishment of which he was most proud were his years with SNCC

Paul Gaston, also a UVA history professor, says he first met Bond in 1963 when he was asked to come to Atlanta and talk to SNCC. He says he knew immediately that the son of college president Horace Mann Bond was someone to watch.

“He brought a clarity about what needed to be done and he brought an integrity that was remarkable,” says Gaston. “He kept his eye on the prize and encouraged the rest of us to do so.”

Bond’s History of the Civil Rights Movement class at UVA was very popular, says Gaston. “It was a big difference for students to have a teacher who had lived the civil rights movement,” he says.

Gaston was shocked to learn of Bond’s death. “He’s a person I really miss,” he says. “And it’s about time for the university to come through with its promise for a chair for him.”

UVA wants to establish the Julian Bond Professorship in Civil Rights and Social Justice, and has raised $2 million of the $3 million needed to do so.