Julian Bond, a celebrated champion for civil rights and former chairman of the NAACP, died Saturday night, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. He was 75.
Bond died in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, after a brief illness, according to The Associated Press.
“Julian Bond was a hero and, I’m privileged to say, a friend. Justice and equality was the mission that spanned his life,” President Barack Obama said in a statement Sunday. “Julian Bond helped change this country for the better. And what better way to be remembered than that.”
Bond was a Nashville, Tennessee, native who attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. While in school, he co-founded the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee -- an organization that fought for and encouraged youth members to be vocal in the civil rights revolution. He led SNCC as the communications director, stood on the front lines of protests alongside several other civil rights pioneers like Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis, and became a leader in the 1960s protest movement.
Bond later served as board chairman of the 500,000-member NAACP for 10 years, but declined to run for another one-year term in 2010, the AP reported.
In a 1997 interview with PBS, Bond discussed the success of the civil rights revolution but acknowledged the progress that still needed to be made.
If you look at the young people I teach and compare them with myself at that age, their lives are so much richer and fuller. Opportunity is so much greater they can do things that I couldn't imagine doing. So in that sense, sure, this was an enormous victory. We vanquished in the space of about five years a system that had been in place for almost 100 years. We confused discrimination and racism. We confused the poverty caused by discrimination with poverty caused by larger structural flaws in the economy. We have yet been able to come up with a strategy to deal with them. So we won, but we haven't won.
Bond was a "visionary" and "tireless champion" for civil and human rights, the SPLC said.
"With Julian's passing, the country has lost one of its most passionate and eloquent voices for the cause of justice," SPLC co-founder Morris Dees said in a statement released Sunday morning. "He advocated not just for African Americans, but for every group, indeed every person subject to oppression and discrimination, because he recognized the common humanity in us all."
Bond later went on to serve 20 years in the Georgia Legislature, "mostly in conspicuous isolation from white colleagues who saw him as an interloper and a rabble-rouser," the New York Times reported.
His anti-war stance and disapproval of America's position in the Vietnam War created tension for him among his political colleagues.
"When he was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965 -- along with seven other black members -- furious white members of the House refused to let him take his seat, accusing him of disloyalty," the Times reported.
It would take a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling to confirm his seat. Denying it would be a violation on his freedom of speech, the court said.
In 1986, Bond ran to represent Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives, but was defeated by Lewis, a SNCC co-founder and fellow activist.
Following Bond's death, Lewis admitted to NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday" that the race created "a little schism for a while" between them but nothing that weakened their friendship in the long run.
Lewis acknowledged Bond as "a wonderful writer, a poet. He had a great sense of humor. He could make you laugh until you wanted to cry. But he worked very hard," Lewis told WESUN host Rachel Martin. "[He] was just smart, just smart. Brilliant."
Bond would often appear as a commentator on news shows and became a leading voice in the media, featured on NBC’s “Today” show, and in The Nation and The New York Times.
He was also a professor of history at the University of Virginia and an adjunct professor at American University, the AP reported.
Many other celebrated civil and human rights activists mourned Bond’s death Sunday.
“Very few throughout human history have embodied the ideals of honor, dignity, courage and friendship like Dr. Julian Bond,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “Quite simply, this nation and this world are far better because of his life and commitment to justice and equality for all people. Future generations will look back on the life and legacy of Julian Bond and see a warrior of good who helped conquer hate in the name of love. I will greatly miss my friend and my hero, Dr. Julian Bond.”
Bond is survived by his wife, Pamela Horowitz, and five children.