A rose for Julian: Remembering Horace Julian Bond

On Aug. 22, hundreds, if not thousands, of people responded to an invitation from the family of civil rights icon, Julian Bond, who died on Aug. 15:

Since we fully understand and appreciate that many of you consider Julian to be part of your family and would like to be a part of his official home going, we extend the following invitation. We invite you to gather at a body of water near your home and precisely at 2:00pm, CDT, spread flower pedals on the water and join us in bidding farewell to Horace Julian Bond. This gesture will mean a great deal to us as a family and also provide some comfort in knowing that you share our loss.

All around the country, people mourned this passing and shared in the Bond family’s loss. In Washington, 100 prominent Americans, including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), his friend and colleague of several decades, gathered at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and from there walked to toss flower petals into the Tidal Basin.

Other ceremonies were held in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., where Bond died on Aug. 15, in Montgomery, Ala., at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which he founded, and in such diverse places as the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Atlanta, on the banks of Lake Michigan in Chicago, and in New York on banks of the Hudson River.

While some gathered in Hampton, Va., not far from the place where Africans first landed in the English-speaking Americas, a friend and I boarded the Jamestown ferry. Approaching the first mate to explain that we would be joining in a memorial for Julian Bond, he said, “That name sounds familiar.” The next day, while waiting for my two Americanos and the Sunday paper at Starbucks drive-through window, the barista asked what I would do that day. When I replied that I would be working on an opinion piece about the floral remembrance celebrations for Julian Bond, he asked who Bond was and what had happened to him. How could anyone not know who Julian Bond was? I thought.

Who was this man for whom the well-known and the unknown scattered their petals of remembrance? Horace Julian Bond was a dedicated social activist, author, university professor and civil rights leader. His father, Horace Mann Bond, was president of both Fort Valley State University and Lincoln University, and his mother, Julia, was a university librarian. Bond and his siblings grew up in a stimulating intellectual atmosphere, surrounded by such luminaries as Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois and E. Franklin Frazier. Later, in 1961, Bond dropped out of Morehouse College to become one of the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He was interviewed by NPR on the 50th anniversary of the founding of SNCC. When asked what he thought the greatest triumph of SNCC was, he responded:

“[O]ur greatest triumph was that we existed at all, that these young people of college age, some of high school age, a couple a little older, put together an organization against the advice of our elders, dropped out of college, many of us — against the advice of our parents — created an organization that dared to go into the rural South, where resistance to racial justice was greatest.”

Bond and his young colleagues were inspired not only by Martin Luther King Jr. and James Lawson, but also by Ella Baker, formerly of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and later of SNCC, as Bon recounted in the NPR interview:

“She gave a speech called ‘More Than a Hamburger,’ and she told us that what we were about in the sit-in demonstrations should be more than a hamburger and a Coca-Cola at a lunch counter. We should attack segregation in the whole society, not just at lunch counters. And luckily, we took her at her word and did what she said, and SNCC became what it became. … And hundreds of thousands of people became engaged in it in the South, getting arrested, going to jail at least for a day or so, in the North in support roles. And so the phenomenon just spread like wildfire literally, and a new movement was born.”

Other SNCC leaders included Dorie Ladner and her sister Joyce Ladner, Endesha Ida Mae Holland, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Bernice Reagon and Ann Moody. More than once, it has been pointed out that although the ideals and principles that SNCC lived for may have seemed radical at the time, they helped define our understanding of the basic civil and human rights that we take for granted today. It is hard for most young people today to imagine not being able to go into a restaurant and sit down and have a hamburger. And people risked their lives for that, gathering at churches where local organizers would drive them to the lunch bars and restaurants to be desegregated, often with police officers following close on the tail of the cars carrying the civil rights workers. Some, like Sammy Younge Jr., who was shot in the back of the head for attempting to use a “whites only” bathroom, died.

Having left Morehouse to join SNCC in 1961, Bond returned to complete his B.A. in English in 1971. From there, he went on to serve four terms in the Georgia House of Representatives and six terms in the Georgia State Senate. Throughout his political career, Bond consistently showed courage. He served for 12 years as chairman of the NAACP. At a time when many black folk were still deeply entrenched in homophobia, Bond, as chairman of the NAACP, spoke out in favor of marriage equality and he founded the Southern Poverty Law Center to help deal with continuing hate crimes and inequality in the South.

Black lives matter. Only a few of us remain who remember what it was like not to be able to use the closest bathroom because of our race, and we need to tell the tale. History should not live only in history books, and the gains we have made are still far too recent and too fragile. For this progress, as it is, we owe Bond and his SNCC colleagues a debt of gratitude. “A final SNCC legacy,” said Bond, “is the destruction of the psychological shackles which had kept black [S]outherners in physical and mental peonage; SNCC helped break those chains forever. It demonstrated that ordinary women and men, young and old, could perform extraordinary tasks.”

Is it any wonder, then, that people of all races and orientations turned out in so many different places to drop their petals into the waters of this earth in memory of Julian Bond — all together — as his family committed his ashes to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico? Dear Bond family, we are sorry for your loss. But now he is everywhere, in every ripple, every ocean, every river and every stream. And the struggle for freedom, equality and justice under the law continues. His fierce legacy lives on.

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