Commentary: Civil rights leader Julian Bond: an American revolutionary

Commentary: Civil rights leader Julian Bond: an American revolutionary
August 20
00:00 2015

In above photo: Julian Bond (Illustration by Ron Rogers for The Chronicle)

William J. Barber, Guest Columnist 

One of Julian Bond’s heroes, Frederick Douglass, died at 77 in his Washington, D.C. home, cared for by a loving wife and comrade. NAACP Chair Emeritus Bond died at 75. He leaves his loving wife, Pam, at their Washington home, along with his blood and Movement children, like me, across the nation, who have learned much from his example on the Long March for Justice.

Douglass’ (1818-1895) Long March began in the dangerous moral fusion abolition movement that led, in 1861, to the U.S. Government’s organizing millions of Black and White families and soldiers to smash its sin and system of slavery in 1865. After a short period of exciting moral fusion advances in the 1st Reconstruction, Douglass watched with increasing frustration as Southern states allowed racism to terrorize the new African-American citizens with impunity. He joined the great cloud of anti-racism witnesses in 1895, and the next year, the U.S. Government gave its full support to Jim Crow with its Plessy decision. Black Southerners suffered egregious economic and social oppression for the next 58 years, until the NAACP knocked the legal legs out from under Jim Crow.

Julian was 14 when nine white men in black robes declared Plessy unconstitutional. The Warren court, and every Southern politician, knew this was merely the first step in dismantling America’s apartheid system of segregation and gross inequality in education, employment, housing and health. Taking on this 2nd Reconstruction necessitated a second war, less violent, with the U.S. Government’s commitment to this struggle decisively less unanimous than the Supreme Court’s. The anti-racism non-violent army of the South was led by citizen-soldiers who, like every army, were young. Julian Bond was 20 when he went to work with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee – SNCC. Although SNCC had a few “elders” – Ella Baker, James Forman and Robert Moses – in the main it was composed of young Black students from Southern high schools and colleges. Hundreds of courageous young Black students from the south, joined by a few white Southerners, served as the shock troops in the first battles, waged in lunch rooms, bus stations, and courthouse voter registration gauntlets. Young Julian’s political analysis, his serious demeanor, his understanding of White-Black Southern history, and his command of English quickly won him the job of SNCC’s Communication Director. Thousands of news releases and political analyses flowed from the SNCC office in Atlanta. Since its field secretaries were continually being arrested, beaten up, and threatened with death, and they had sworn to forego the right to self-defense, Bond’s ability to alert national television and print media to where people were being attacked probably saved many SNCC activists and grass roots leaders.

When Black soldiers came home from Vietnam describing the atrocities they had seen the U.S. commit against the tiny country’s non-white peasants, it was not long for Julian and SNCC to begin protesting these atrocities. Soon the Georgia Legislature, dripping with the money being spent by the U.S. military across Georgia, decided Bond’s truth-telling could not be tolerated in the legislature and ejected him from his hard-won seat. Without skipping a beat, Julian and SNCC took the attack on him as an opportunity for turning the Southern U.S. anti-racism movement into a southern hemisphere movement against the racist policies of the U.S. and European nations toward native, non-whites. With brilliant organizing and media work, complemented by a good legal strategy, the Supreme Court forced the legislature to seat one of the youngest state representatives in the country. Americans are the targets of a conscious dumbing-down by Tea Party extremists, who are dependent on their twisted versions of world events and history. Their cruel policies would be immediately rejected if our kids were taught accurate history in our public schools. This problem led to Julian’s full support of the “Eyes on the Prize” film. But it also makes it necessary, I believe, to preface any comments about his contributions to the anti-racism movement with a review of certain historical facts, to contextualize and provide an evidentiary foundation for the statements of praise and thanks I want to make about my beloved brother. I know Julian would have it no other way.

After the 2nd Reconstruction was short-circuited by the Wallace-Nixon-Helms-Rehnquist southern strategy, Brother Bond, in 1998, was persuaded to lead 64 civil rights veterans who sit on the Board of Directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Julian Bond never let us down in our efforts in North Carolina to revive SNCC’s strategy of non-violent direct action from the moral high ground. He gave us confidence to experiment with different ways to welcome our Brown and White sisters and brothers to the central struggle against racism. Yes, the “Black Power” slogan and its underlying theory was popularized by SNCC in 1966. But we knew it had been vulgarized by hostile national forces and media, and that SNCC itself always supported white allies, friends and close comrades within the anti-racism movement. In 2006, we began building the Historic Thousands on Jones Street Coalition, and Julian attended several of these annual People’s Assemblies. He encouraged our State Conference to transform our once-a-year actions at the People’s House into once-a-week actions, which the media called Moral Mondays.

Now, Brother Julian, you get a well-deserved rest. You join the nine Emanuel Martyrs in the cloud of witnesses. We will keep alive your love, your humor, and your direct way of promoting justice, as we continue the Long March. You will be present within us as we walk in the NAACP’s Journey for Justice through North Carolina on the way to D.C. to demand a comprehensive Voting Rights Act, that five Justices – liquidating history – eviscerated a couple of years ago. As the Journey passes ALEC’s offices in Northern Virginia, a factory of poisonous boiler-plates of cruel laws for Southern states to pass against the poor, disenfranchised, poorly schooled, LGBTQ, labor, immigrants, women, and every group of people excluded from accumulating capital in the avaricious economic-political system that is playing its trump card once again, you will be with us. We can hear you saying from the clouds: AMERICA. Shuffle the letters and you get: I AM RACE.

Chairperson Bond. . . You are Present. Julian. . . Presente’.

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is president of the N.C. NAACP, which is based in Durham, and chairman of the Political Action Committee of the National Board of the NAACP.


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