Saluting Julian Bond, Civil Rights Icon

With Bond set to be honored, a friend recalls how the college activist became a social-justice legend.

The Washington Post

If ever there was a man for all seasons, Julian Bond certainly fits the bill -- a man whose college-student activism challenged the lie of "separate but equal" all over the South and particularly in his home state of Georgia. He went on to serve four terms in the Georgia House of Representatives and six in the Georgia Senate. Among other things, Julian also served four terms on the national board of the NAACP and was its chairman from 1998 to 2010.

Now the University of Virginia, located in a South that Julian helped change, is set to establish the H. Julian Bond Professorship of Civil Rights and Social Justice. There will be a celebration of Julian's many gifts and good works and a fundraiser for the chair on May 2 at New York's Plaza Hotel, where I will recall some of the seasons of Julian's life that inspired so many, including myself.

What amazes me about Julian is that he is the same Julian today as he was back when I first knew him as a soft-spoken, baby-faced college student. His innocent facade was betrayed by the wicked twinkle in his eye and the searing certainty of his pen during the heady days of the Atlanta Student Movement, when he was not only one of its leaders but also its poet and scribe.

Three Friends Just Driving Through

Even before the movement in Atlanta started in 1960, Julian, Carolyn Long and Ben Brown had the fire within to get what should have been rightfully theirs. Initially it was about a hamburger.

The three college students had gone to a busy "whites-only," pre-McDonald's drive-through in Atlanta known as the Yellow Jacket -- not to make a statement, but simply because they were hungry. At the same time, they knew that American blacks would not be served, so displaying some of the creativity that they later employed during their days challenging the lie of "separate but equal," they posed as foreigners. (Foreign blacks had more entrée than those who were homegrown.)

They rummaged around in the trunk of Carolyn's father's car, knowing that as a traveling umpire, he had something in his packed bag that they could use. They fished out enough underwear to make turbans. They then wrapped their heads in the underwear and drove into the Yellow Jacket and attempted to order -- in French.

But on that occasion, the one black carhop recognized them as locals. Undoubtedly worried as much about his own job as he might have been about the three hungry black students, he told them in no uncertain terms, as Carolyn still remembers it word for word, "You'd better get the hell outta there before your black [blankety-blanks] get arrested." (Substitute a five-letter word beginning with "a" for "blankety-blanks.")

It was probably one of the last times such a warning would be heeded by that group. For soon after the Greensboro, N.C., sit-ins that lit the fire igniting the civil rights movement in 1960, Julian and friends like Carolyn and Ben decided that their time had come, too.

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