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Remembering Civil Rights Leader Julian Bond

The legacy of the former NAACP board chairman

By PBS NewsHour

(This article previously appeared on PBS

Longtime civil rights leader and former NAACP president Julian Bond died Saturday in Florida, at age 75. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, a civil rights pioneer, joined NewsHour's Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the legacy of Julian Bond.

HARI SREENIVASAN: President Barack Obama is calling civil rights leader Julian Bond a hero who helped change the country for the better. Bond died Saturday in Florida.

Grandson of a slave and son of a college president, Bond attended Atlanta’s Morehouse College, where he was a student in a philosophy class taught by Martin Luther King Jr.

In the 1960s, Bond help lead the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, known as SNCC, planning nonviolent protests throughout the segregated South. At the age of 26, Bond was elected to the Georgia state legislature and served there 20 years. He made a run for Congress, but lost an epic race to fellow civil rights activist John Lewis, in 1986.

He was also the first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which advocates for justice and equality, and later chairman of the NAACP, and served more than a decade in that post.

Two years ago, Bond spoke at the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

JULIAN BOND: We are still being tested by hardships and adversity, from the elevation of stand-your-ground laws to the evisceration of the Voting Rights Act. But, today, we commit ourselves, as we did 50 years ago, to greater efforts and grander victories. Thank you.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Julian Bond was 75.

To discuss the legacy of Julian Bond, I am joined via Skype from Martha’s Vineyard by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, a civil rights pioneer in her own right whose relationship with Bond goes back to their days at SNCC.

When you heard the news, what went through your mind?

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: Well, I wasn’t even a little bit ready to lose my good friend and constituent, because — because Julian has lived in Washington now for more than 25 years, and been a champion, among other things, of statehood for the District of Columbia.

I saw him only a few months ago, when he came right after Ferguson when I had a forum at Howard University to discuss racial profiling. And I wanted to have Julian come because I wanted to have this conversation, Julian and me with these students, in order to let them know we were in touch with their movement and we understood their movement, it was different than our movement, and that their movement showed that our movement need to be updated, because for all the achievements of our movement, we had not touched racial profiling.

What Julian managed to do was something that most of us who were in SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, didn’t do. He managed to spend his entire life in civil rights, not the sentimental civil rights of our SNCC days, but the civil rights of our time. And that’s why he was so respected and such a sought-after speaker.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Can you give us an idea of the contributions that he has made that most of us in this generation now might not recognize?


ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: Well, if you think about it, from the generation of SNCC people, those of us who were in the student movement, there were two or three that achieved some kind of prominence afterwards.

Marion Barry became the mayor of the District of Columbia — John Lewis, who still is an icon of the civil rights movement, Julian Bond — and I am running out of names.

The fact is not everybody survived those SNCC days. It took a lot out of people. It almost destroyed some people. So, Julian wasn’t only a survivor of SNCC. He went on to grow the civil rights movement.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What are you going to miss most about him?

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: I’m going to miss having a national spokesman, when something happened on our rights, to speak out for the country.

There are really very few leaders like that who are nationally known, who are nationally prominent, and who are nationally appreciated across the generations. And, somehow, he managed not to stop serving until the end of his life. That is quite a life to have lived.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, thanks so much for joining us.

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: Always a pleasure.

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