Saluting Julian Bond, Civil Rights Icon
With Bond set to be honored, a friend recalls how the college activist became a social-justice legend.
In no time, Julian made contact with other students from around the South, eventually creating the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which provided the "shock troops" of the movement. Heeding the advice of Ella Baker, an older civil rights pioneer, Julian set about creating a movement that was about more than a hamburger.
The Eye of the Storm
Given the kind of upbringing they had in race-proud black families, and educated in the renowned historic hub of black higher education known as the Atlanta University Center, the students cockily set about creating what they determined would be the best-organized protest movement to date. They pretty much got it right.
With Julian as one of the chief strategists and scribes, they did their research, polling students in the area about what they saw as the major inequities in Atlanta. They organized the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights and drafted a paper that contained a list of demands calling on "the white power structure," as it was known, to meet forthwith. They not only had demands but also dramatized them in unprecedented action in the streets, with the so-called white power structure conceding nothing.
Julian sat at the nerve center of the movement, strategizing, deploying and keeping up with the hundreds of college students who filed out of their classrooms and took to the streets, getting arrested by the dozens. Julian was a quiet but firm leader, and almost always with that deceptive twinkle in his eye. He relished the good fight and never shrank from the myriad challenges it presented, including getting arrested. While there were times when the young warriors knocked heads among themselves, Julian was the (mostly) calm at the center of the storm.
When the white newspapers only halfheartedly covered the burgeoning movement, and the one black newspaper was cowed by its white advertisers into ignoring the protests, Julian was among a small group to start a muckraking newspaper called the Atlanta Inquirer. It was published in the basement of M. Carl Holman, one of Clark College's English professors and an activist. Julian was one of a handful of young men and women who made up the motley crew the paper called a staff.
Julian, who left Morehouse to devote himself full time to the paper and the movement, had his work cut out for him. Students who protested in the morning, got arrested by noon and bailed out in the afternoon would then make their way to Holman's basement. There, they would recount their experiences to Julian, who would write them up for the paper.
In time the Inquirer also expanded its mission to expose even more of the lie of "separate but equal" in places other than lunch counters: in the schools and hospitals; in the substandard housing, especially the projects; and in many other places. As a student fighting my own battles at the University of Georgia, I joined them whenever I could, in a collaboration that would put a stamp on my consciousness as a journalist for the rest of my days. It was during these times that Julian also became a key player in SNCC as the organization's communication director and editor of its newsletter, the Student Voice.
Dangerous Times -- and Time for Fun
Make no mistake: This was a tough and dangerous time for anyone involved in the movement, no matter their role. The Ku Klux Klan marched threateningly against the students when they picketed downtown department stores. A white racist who later became governor went after them with an ax.