Who was Julian Bond?

Today I’m writing to all the would-be dreamers, the young people who would believe they could make a difference if only they knew what to do, and our future leaders—the only leaders who will be left in 50 years time.

You may have heard that Saturday, August 15th, Julian Bond died. Who was Julian Bond? He was, at least when he was young, no different from any other person who knew something needed to be done.

Back in the 1960s, Julian Bond was just a college student. He was studying English at Morehouse College, and he had a sense that Blacks in America deserved something better than segregation.

How did he respond? While he was a student at Morehouse, he and over 200 other Black students attended a meeting organized by Ella Baker, someone who had learned how to organize people in the 1930s. This student organization became the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and it grew and grew until it became the driving force behind the Civil Rights Movement. Its members organized sit-ins, freedom rides, and voter-registration drives.

—But Julian Bond, at the start, was only a small part—just one person who believed in something and decided to get involved. Does that sound like you?

After leaving Morehouse in 1961, Bond traveled around the Southern United States as the Communications Director of SNCC. He eventually went back to Morehouse to finish the Bachelor of Arts in English that he had put on hold while traveling. In 1971, he started a law firm called the Southern Poverty Law Center with two lawyers, Morris Dees and Joseph J. Levin Jr., who had experience owning and operating a business.

I describe the unfolding of these events in this way because I remember how I felt when I was in my twenties. I was unsure of myself, wondering whether I would make a difference in this world. I had my cynical days, my days when I felt I was extremely unqualified or unprepared. But I think Julian Bond probably felt this way, too, when he was the humble but driven leader of a student org.

Maybe he felt this way when he was a representative of Georgia, and when he was a senator, and when he was chairman of the NAACP.

In 2000, Bond wrote about what the SNCC did. It destroyed, he said, “the shackles which had kept black southerners 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.” It focused not only on integration, but on Black empowerment.

Julian Bond was one of the extraordinary ordinary men of the 20th century. Read up on him, and remember that all it takes to be extraordinary is a decision to get involved and stay involved. Making a difference is not a privilege of the gifted few.

I am sad to see him pass, but he sure left a lot for us to work with. So let’s work with it.

What to do:

Find a group near you that is fighting for justice.

If there is no such group, start one.

If you won’t lead the group, write your representatives and ask for help.

You don’t need to be special to make a difference. But you do need to do something. So do something.

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