Julian Bond, once a young leader in the civil-rights movement — who did not always see eye-to-eye with Martin Luther King Jr. — died over the weekend at a time when Americans are receiving successive reminders that the fight against racism isn’t over.
He was only 75, a testament to how young he was when he entered the civil-rights movement of the ’60s, to which Mr. Bond is forever linked in the American consciousness. The Georgia resident died at his vacation home in Fort Walton Beach. But Florida also was a base for much of his activism.
Mr. Bond came into prominence as a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, considered one of the most important civil-rights organizations in the South during the 1960s — before being eclipsed by Dr. King’s move into the national spotlight.
During his years as a civil-rights activist — first with a more-aggressive “black power” bent, later as part of the establishment as head of the NAACP — Mr. Bond frequently visited Miami-Dade County, making headlines when he spoke at conventions, Democratic events, Barry University, Miami Dade College and Florida International University.
In September 1967, he made front-page news in the Miami Herald. Mr. Bond spoke by invitation to the American Friends Committee during the fiery days of the civil-rights movement.
He was quoted as saying that although he didn’t favor riots, “Individuals have the right to react violently if they think they should.” He told the audience that night that Dr. King was still popular with many blacks, but “his ideas aren’t.” That was seven months before the civil-rights leader was murdered.
When he spoke in Miami to that full house, Mr. Bond had already been embroiled — and victorious –in an ugly fight to claim the seat he had won, but had been denied, in the Georgia Legislature. Mr. Bond had spoken out against U.S. involvement in Vietnam, saying that blacks should not go there and fight.
He also said he would not denounce people who burned their military draft cards — even though he made it clear that he would not do the same to his own.
These statements were considered treason by some Georgia legislators — and the color of Mr. Bond’s skin, no doubt, did not help. The matter went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1966 imposed both common sense and the rule of law in its decision that Mr. Bond should be seated in the Legislature.
He became the first black elected to the Georgia Legislature in modern times.
Throughout his years as a legislator and Democratic Party activist, Mr. Bond made other trips to Florida.
In the later 1960s, he visited Tampa to lead a sanitation workers strike. He also made stops in Miami-Dade during civil disturbances in the late 1960s and was here following the 1980 Arthur McDuffie riots. The week of March 1969, Mr. Bond, the great-grandson of a slave and the son of a university president, was the subject of a five-page feature article in the Herald’s famed Sunday magazine, Tropic. The article was titled: The Man too Young to be Vice President. Yet.
Mr. Bond never stopped speaking out for the oppressed. He supported the demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police shooting of a black man and called it African Americans’ age-old battle “to be treated decently and fairly.” There are thousands of young people across the country who are now engaged in that battle, too.
Mr. Bond’s blunt talk — propelled by a clear-eyed vision, leavened by his graciousness and enhanced by his ability to persuasively articulate his vision to a diversity of Americans — can be a model for these latest warriors. ___