It’s 1968 and the Democratic National Convention just shook the political and social fixtures of American society. Julian Bond became the first African-American man to be nominated for vice president of the United States. Protestors and activists were rioting in the streets. Only a year before the nail-biting case of Bond v. Floyd took place, in which a young Bond fought to receive his seat in the Georgia House of Representatives. The court ruled 9-0 in favor of giving Bond his seat. The Georgia House had previously refused to seat Bond because of his race and his opposition to the Vietnam War.
Flash forward to 2015. On Aug. 15, civil rights leader Julian Bond passed away at age 75. Bond was a fixture of the civil rights movement, and his struggle against white supremacy took many forms in his life-long career. Bond was a student, an activist, a professor, a legislator, an orator, a cultural figure and a friend of Albion College history professor Wes Dick.
I sat down with Dick last week to learn more about Bond’s life and his impact on Albion College. I wanted to learn what it was like to witness history first-hand.
Dick knew Bond for over 40 years. They met after Bond first spoke at Albion College in the fall of 1974. He gave a talk titled, “What’s Next?” which focused on motivating a new generation of young leaders. In an interview with the Pleiad, Bond described himself as part of the, “new politics” movement, an emerging grassroots organization in the ’70s. He described some of the constituents as being urban militants, campus rebels, small farmers who refuse to pay rent, welfare people, housewives tired of rising prices, and high school students forced to conform to antiquated ways. He also gave some advice for students:
“This nation, for these people is likely to fail,” said Bond, “as long as the military takes precedence over the poor, and the men on the moon over the men on the earth.”
When Dick began introducing courses that focus on the influence of the 1960s on American history, he showed students the documentary series “Eyes on the Prize,” which Bond narrated. In the 2000s, Bond began to conduct tours of historic places of the civil rights movement and Dick, along with his family, joined Bond year after year.
Dick attended the NAACP’s centennial convention where Bond was awarded the Spingarn Award, the highest honor the organization can bestow. President Obama addressed the dinner, which was the largest gathering of African-Americans he attended at that point in his presidency.
A lesser-known fact about Bond was his love for rock ‘n’ roll. He was known for lecturing on music in class and brought up a lot of the racial issues related to the genre.
“He had been asked before, and I asked him again in an interview what he’d like to be remembered for,” said Dick. “On one side it would say ‘race man.’ On the other it would say ‘easily amused.’ In our interview, he had a good sense of humor. He was known for that.”
My spring semester of 2014 seemed to really start when the MLK convocation rolled around. Bond’s speech was the first of its kind that I had heard. I had never heard someone speak so eloquently and passionately about something they fought for. I remember how his voice was soft and low, yet still carried this incredible power. Bond’s reserve made his place in history even more apparent. My hope is that my classmates and I can carry on his legacy of the patient, never waning, fight for justice.
America has made great strides to create a more all-inclusive society. Yet, racially spurred discrimination continues to prevail in this country in one form or another. Whether it is a bitter ex-newsman who was picked on for his skin color or a young white male with a chip on his shoulder, we often see racially spurred violence in the media. Bond saw that there was still work to be done in the present– he was even making college tour plans until the week before he died. We should apply his lessons on equality and acceptance to our own attitudes.
To the world, he was a brilliant enigma. To Professor Dick, he was an inspiration and a friend. Our campus will never have the luxury of having Bond walk our grounds again, but let’s hope his legacy lives on through our professors and students.
Photo Credit: The Albion College Pleiad, Nov. 1974