Saluting Julian Bond, Civil Rights Icon
With Bond set to be honored, a friend recalls how the college activist became a social-justice legend.
Moreover, despite their commitment to going to jail without bail until freedom rang, jail for these otherwise sheltered students was a frightening experience. They were thrown into cold cells without blankets and with prisoners who ranged from prostitutes and thieves to murderers (who were nonetheless won over by their young cell mates). But what sustained the students was not only their own commitment to end Jim Crow; it was also colleagues like Julian, who instinctively understood that there needed to be "time-outs" as well as "time-ins."
To that end, the students often gathered in each other's home to relieve the stress they were all under by way of a "pah-tee." There may have been others who could boogie down better than Julian, but scribe and poet that he was, he sho nuff had some rhythm -- as you can see in this poem he wrote during one of those "pah-tees":
See that girl shake that thing,
We can't all be Martin Luther King.
I had left Atlanta by the time Julian moved into the Georgia Legislature after being denied his seat more than once over his principled stance against the Vietnam War. I had begun to realize my dream of becoming the black Brenda Starr at the New Yorker. And in 1967, when I learned that my old friend Julian was coming to speak at an event in New York, I quickly secured the assignment and found him at the hotel where he was speaking and interviewed him about this new season of his life.
He was, as usual, low-key, but his passion was as high as always as he talked about the next phase of the civil rights movement. While he had written that we couldn't all be Martin Luther King, he nevertheless powerfully echoed Dr. King's message against the war and for ongoing engagement and struggle with what he told me then: "Negroes must not forget race consciousness as long as they are victims of racism."
Then he dipped back into history to remind that audience of the early Negro activists whose heritage of dissent helped create this country.
Fast-forward to Wednesday night at the Plaza, when Julian Bond -- my friend, my colleague, my role model and inspiration -- is rightfully honored as one whose heritage of dissent helped move this country closer to fulfilling its promise of freedom, justice and equality for all. He is truly one of the giants on whose shoulders our first black president has acknowledged that he stands, as do so many of us. Thank you, Julian.
Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Julian Bond became friends during the Atlanta sit-in movement, after she desegregated the University of Georgia in 1961.