Julian Bond: A Legacy of Activism

If we recall our college days, some of us may crack a smile when we think back to those fun-loving times.  Some of us may cringe at the memory of pulling all-nighters just to try and pass Organic Chemistry or maybe you get filled with pride considering how much work you put in to earn your degree and even graduate with honors.

I wonder though, how many of us can stand up and proclaim that we left college to fight for freedom?  How many of us can say we selflessly set side our own aims and personal agendas to further the cause of our people? At any point in your college career, did you think you were more needed in your community?  Do you have any friends who did that? I think it is safe to surmise that none of us did nor do we know anyone among us who abandoned their pursuit of an education to get on the front lines of justice.


Julian Bond (neé Horace Julian Bond) was just twenty-one years old when he left Morehouse College in 1961 to begin working throughout the South to protest segregation and Jim Crow laws. Surely he could have chosen to complete his degree, get a job afterwards and eventually start a family. It certainly would not have been frowned upon had Bond done what was expected of most educated Blacks at the time; to follow the course of assimilation. So his choice to leave school begs the question: What inspired such a bold and altruistic choice?


1960, the year before Bond left Morehouse,  he helped establish the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; considered one of the most important organizations of the Civil Rights Movement.  The year 1960 was also considered to be the year of the sit-in. This act of civil disobedience was not only a protest against the racist and discriminatory codes of segregation at lunch counters and other establishments, but also a signal from Black youth to the established Black leadership that they were not content to wait for legislation or other incremental gains from whites.  In other words, they were not about waiting for folks to act right; they were all about taking action.


Throughout the South, the youth leaders in SNCC, the NAACP and other organizations were organizing, protesting on college campuses, staging rallies and putting together voter registration drives.  In virtually every city there was work and activism taking place: Nashville, Montgomery, Charlotte, Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Durham, Baltimore, and Jacksonville. Young people were getting it done and risking their lives while they did it.  By the summer of 1961 the Freedom Rides were well under way. This was the social and political context that ignited a fire in a young Bond, who felt compelled to pause his education and work on behalf of Black people.


In 1965, Bond is voted in as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives and six years later he returns to Morehouse to complete his degree and earn a BA in English.  At this point he is wiser for his experiences as an activist but he was far from done.  The same year he completed his degree, Bond joined the Southern Poverty Law Center as its inaugural President of the Board.

Bond spent 8 years at President of SPLC and just about 12 years as the Chairman of the NAACP. When he left the office, he was 70 years old and spent the last 5 years of his life lecturing on the legacy of the Civil Rights movement, advocating for Gay and Civil Rights and criticizing policies that contributed to climate change.

Saturday, January 14th would have made Julian Bond 77 years old. He died on August 15th, 2015.

And I’m going to be honest; this is Khalilah speaking. I didn’t know anything about Julian Bond prior to doing research on him for this post. I mean, I had heard of his name. I knew his was a Civil Rights Icon but if I had to give details…

You can go ahead with your judgment BUT I want to know, have you ever taught your students about Julian Bond? And not like, just mentioning his name, but detailing his legacy, analyzing his choices, reading his speeches, looking at the laws he helped to pass, reflecting on the organizations he led. How have you ensured that our students know the shoulders on which they stand?

The majority of you are probably pretty quiet so hold off your judgment.

Seriously though, CREAD was birthed out of the desire to center our stories, narratives and heroes, of which Julian Bond is one.


Monday, we will all be off from teaching in order to honor the life and work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. My hope, is that all of you will be out engaging in a day of service in his honor or attending an event in his honor. But if you have nothing planned, if you are looking forward to Monday being a day of rest, we have one favor to ask of you.

Spend 90 minutes researching the life and legacy of Julian Bond, for your own edification of his impact on our lives. You can start by looking here, here and here. You can focus on his relationship with King, focus on his actions as a twenty-something year old in the 60s. Reflect on the great risks he took to ensure that you could be a teacher and that we could have a National holiday for King and honor the Civil Rights movement. And then here’s the big lift; talk, teach and engage our students with the story of King and Bond leading up to inauguration day. Maybe you wait until Friday, the 20th to talk about the twenty year old revolutionary and his actions during the 60s, actions that can inspire our youth.

It’s time we celebrate our founding fathers and mothers, who at great risk to their life, acted in ways to ensure our freedoms. Julian Bond made it out of the 60s when our leaders were either assassinated, incarcerated, or forced into exile.

We won’t be posting on Monday because we will be engaging in a day of service in honor of King and his legacy but we’ll see you on Tuesday.

Remember, next week will be rough. It will feel like a death has taken place. We will be disoriented, disturbed and distraught. So use this weekend to take care of yourself, so that you can nurture our students through the upcoming week. Seek to lead them to the place of hopefulness.


In solidarity.

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