The Lasting Impact of Civil Rights Icon, Julian Bond

I hate the feeling of sticky hands, whether from too much pancake syrup, candy, old nail polish, super glue in a tube that you can’t control—I just don’t like it. One thing is for sure, when something sticky gets on you, there isn’t much you can do. You are literally fixated on ‘un- sticking’ yourself until you finally can. I have found some people to be like that as well. No matter what your interaction is with them, you can’t help but to be enthralled and held captive by their presence—whether good or bad. America lost an icon over the weekend when civil rights leader, educator, political powerhouse, and activist Julian Bond passed away.  He was simply the type of person that was capable of leaving an impression. Just like super glue, to his allies he was useful, and strong. When going up against his adversaries, he couldn’t be easily overcome; it was definitely difficult to separate the man from his values. Several years ago, I had the honor of serving within the NAACP. At the national convention that year, I attended a general board meeting where Julian Bond was present. He came in after the meeting had started, and his was a quiet and commanding presence to be reckoned with. He was such a force that when he entered the room, Chairwoman Brock, who was in the middle of a discussion, immediately deferred to her predecessor. When he spoke, he did so in a warm, but firm way. There were no bells and whistles. There was no grandstanding. There was no long list of his accolades and credentials to be spoken of, before he addressed the board. He just made his points and sat down at the table. I, a lowly field coordinator at the time, was just happy to be at the national convention with my colleagues. I sat there in disbelief, because I was sharing space with civil rights royalty. He tirelessly served the NAACP as Chairman from 1998-2010. As Chairman of the oldest, boldest, civil rights organization in our nation, he forged ahead tying the causes and leaders of one era to the issues of the time. His incumbency at the NAACP was the bridge between the 1990s and the 2000s. Even after Chairwoman Brock started her tenure, I saw, personally, that he still had influence over matters being contemplated by the NAACP at the time. The experience of hearing him address the board and staff is a memory that I will always treasure. Once you have been in the presence of such greatness, the experience…well….sticks with you.

To me, Julian Bond represents the connection that we should all have to making the world a better place. Bond started his career in civil rights working on behalf of disenfranchised African Americans. Who he is, was, and what he did, links the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s to related issues our community faces regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. It also extends to marriage equality—a cause he championed until his death. His legacy is one rooted in activism; he was a college student living in Atlanta when he helped to found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Bond traveled to southern states doing community organizing work, registering voters, and encouraging people to get involved. Bond faced an uphill battle in the segregated south as he embarked upon his journey in politics. Julian Bond ran and was elected as Democrat to the Georgia House of Representatives. Because of his aggressive stance on the war in Vietnam, the other lawmakers voted in the overwhelming majority not to seat him in the legislature. The young lawmaker refused to go quietly into the night. Julian Bond filed a lawsuit in response to the obstruction, which made it to the Supreme Court. In 1966, the Court ruled in favor of Bond in Bond v. Floyd, holding that the Georgia lawmakers had blatantly violated Bond’s constitutional rights—more specifically his right to freedom of speech.  Later, Bond went on to be elected to the Senate where he served six terms.  Bond helped to establish the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an institution of people dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members in society. I feel it safe to say that even when working on behalf of causes that will improve the lives of others—we can’t ever be afraid to speak out no matter how uncomfortable it makes others within or outside of the cause. Julian Bond boycotted the funeral of Coretta Scott King, based on the fact that her funeral services took place in a church that was known to have negative attitudes toward the LGBT community. He was committed to support people that were, to him, still vulnerable targets for those that did not support their rights at any cost. The stand he took fused his history as a leader in traditional civil rights, to the new frontier of issues currently being debated in states across the country. We are grounded and connected to him through the battles he fought to better the lives of people disenfranchised, based on the way they look or how they live.  

Even though we have been bombarded by images of our brothers and sisters being shot and killed on the streets by trigger-happy and sometimes just trifling police, we need to remember the bond we share with Julian. Julian Bond would want us to remember, we are not second class citizens. We are not animals to be toyed with and tazed. We come from a people that fight injustice like our forefather did. His death should be a wakeup call to us. The news of his passing reminded me that the older generation of leaders willing to fight for the rights for those who need it the most are slowing down and (dare I say) dying out. We must forge ahead, sticking together, and vowing to not be ‘unstuck’ to our purpose until we see visible, tangible change. We now are the glue that repairs the ties that should bind us to our past understanding that we must fight for our futures. We must ask ourselves what Julian Bond would do in the face of police brutality and racial oppression. I think he would keep speaking out and calling out those who seek to silence us. He would encourage us to get out in our neighborhoods to not only march, but continue to engage those in power that share our vision for a better nation. The progress we saw during his lifetime cannot be diminished. We are forever bound to you dear Julian, and your death will only serve to motivate the new generation of activists and foot soldiers. Your legacy will stick with us. We pledge to continue your work. Rest in Power.

Image Credits: BET
Yvonne Miller, Esq.
Yvonne Miller, Esq., is a native of Spartanburg, South Carolina. She is an alumna of both the University of South Carolina and Western Michigan University Law School. Yvonne is a consultant residing in Washington, DC. She enjoys listening to music (especially when performed live); traveling; cooking; adorable puppies; and focusing on taking over the world.

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  • Joy

    There is not a day that goes by that I am not introduced to something or someone new, and today is no different in that I knew very little about Julian Bond prior to reading this article. As Miss Miller discusses in the article above there are several issues that the people of today face. Many of those issues resemble, or dare I say are identical to those that came during the time of Julian Bond. One thing that reigns true is that there is nothing new under the sun, and with that we must turn to those who came before us and examine how they went about creating awareness and change. It is important to familiarize ourselves with Julian Bond and those like him in order to understand the evolution, or perhaps the lack thereof, American society.

    I found this article to be of great aid as I continue to familiarize myself with social activists and examine the parallels between civil rights history and the civil rights of today.