I met Julian Bond a couple of times some years back. His death at 75 this week calls to mind another time for me – actually an era that changed the face of America.
Bond was so often in the news for years. He led protests against Jim Crow. He headed the NAACP. He helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Council. He served in both houses of the Georgia legislature.
During so much of Bond’s incredible career, I was writing editorials for The Journal Gazette calling our local school district to desegregate. Of course, I was taking note of this long rising star in the civil rights movement.
I remember sitting next to him at the Grand Wayne Center downtown as he was about to move to the podium and give a speech. I don’t recall our conversation. But I do recall noting what a fine dresser he was, everything matched, down to his socks. And what a speaker.
Who could not be impressed: Georgia accent, carefully phrased throughout, friendly, warm embrace of the overflowing crowd. That was Julian Bond.
His biographies flesh out a life that I now realize I didn’t know the half of. His father was a college president. Even as a young college student, he was arrested during demonstrations against Jim Crow. (No surprise there.)
Bond was an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War. He served as president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He spoke up for gay rights.
And I’d forgotten this. At one national Democratic convention, Bond’s name was placed in nomination for vice president. He would have made a fine national leader.
So much in the country has changed. We now have black members in Congress. Same sex marriage is the law of the land. No law in any state now requires the racial segregation of schools. Yet progress on all fronts remains stubborn.
Black income lags behind that of whites. Housing, in practice, remains largely segregated. Blacks remain behind in education.
Although we have a black U.S. president – one measure of progress – a racist tinge colors much of the opposition.
Still, when I recall the victories that Bond and other black leaders championed, I’m reminded of a line that Julian Bond himself probably cited:
“The arc of history is long but it bends toward justice.”
Rest in peace, Mr. Bond. Rest in peace.