Civil rights icon Julian Bond dies at 75

Julian Bond, an inspiring icon of the civil rights movement who fought against all forms of discrimination and served as the longtime board chairman of the Baltimore-based NAACP, died Saturday. He was 75.

Mr. Bond died in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., after a brief illness, the Southern Poverty Law Center said in a statement Sunday.


He was remembered as a renaissance man — a poet and a politician, an academic and a humanitarian who devoted his life to the ideals of justice and equality.

"Julian Bond helped change this country for the better," President Barack Obama said in a statement released by the White House. "And what better way to be remembered than that."


Born Horace Julian Bond in Nashville, Tenn., Mr. Bond was the son of Horace Mann Bond and Julia Washington Bond. The family moved to Pennsylvania when his father became the first black president of Lincoln University.

In the 1960s, Mr. Bond was on the front lines of protests that led to landmark civil rights laws, leading demonstrations against segregation in Georgia. He helped found the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee as a student at Morehouse College.

He was elected in 1965 to the Georgia House of Representatives, but white colleagues refused to seat him because he opposed the Vietnam War. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the following year that the House's actions were unconstitutional, and Mr. Bond later took his seat. He served for the next decade, and then in the state Senate from 1975 to 1986.

In 1968, Mr. Bond led a delegation to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where he became the first black nominee for vice president of the United States.

"The convention almost came to a halt because there were so many people who didn't want Julian Bond running for any office in the United States," said former Maryland Congressman Kweisi Mfume.

But at age 28, it turned out Mr. Bond was too young to meet the qualifications for the office.

Mr. Mfume remembered Mr. Bond as "a dapper guy who commanded a lot of attention."

"He had a wry and witty sense of humor that oftentimes hid the fact that he was a very detailed, very determined and very discerning individual who could always tell the truth from the trick," said Mr. Mfume, a former president and CEO of the NAACP.


Mr. Bond led the NAACP as board chairman for more than a decade, until 2010. He also was a professor at American University and the University of Virginia.

Baltimore-area leaders remembered Mr. Bond as an inspiration to them and others.

"Julian Bond's impact will continue for generations," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said on Twitter.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said Mr. Bond "dedicated his life to ensuring fairness and equality for all Americans."

"We should all be inspired by his life," Rep. Cummings said in a statement.

Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, called Mr. Bond's life "a symbol of hope."


"He was always a hero to those of us who were children, particularly in the Deep South," said Dr. Hrabowski, an Alabama native. "We always saw him as a very, very strong advocate for youth and someone who constantly challenged our nation to live up to its ideals."

About six years ago, Mr. Bond interviewed Dr. Hrabowski for Mr. Bond's "Explorations in Black Leadership" interview series for the University of Virginia's Institute for Public History. They spoke about segregation in schools and other topics.

"I kept saying to him that I wanted to be interviewing him," Dr. Hrabowski recalled. "He spoke with both confidence and humility."

Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, remembered Mr. Bond as an "engaging and encouraging" leader and a humanitarian.

"He's groomed a lot of people," she said. "His legacy is definitely well-embedded in all of our hearts and minds."

Ms. Hill-Aston said it always felt like a great honor to shake Mr. Bond's hand because he was such an icon. He helped to broaden the civil rights coalition to include many groups seeking equality and fairness, she said.


"It's a great loss to the whole nation," Ms. Hill-Aston said.

Mr. Bond was a champion of marriage equality in Maryland and elsewhere. In a 2011 letter to the editor published in The Baltimore Sun, he urged the General Assembly to legalize gay marriage, writing that "discrimination is wrong no matter who the victim is."

"God seems to have made room in his plan for interracial marriage," Mr. Bond wrote. "He will no doubt do the same for same-sex marriage."

Benjamin Jealous, who served as the NAACP president and CEO from 2008 to 2013, said Mr. Bond believed deeply that the NAACP needed to support gay rights.

Mr. Bond led the selection committee that eventually hired Mr. Jealous, he said.

"He ensured that no one became a finalist that was not pro-marriage equality," Mr. Jealous said. "He understood we had a role to play."


Mr. Jealous said Mr. Bond had "a powerful sense of connection to our movement's founders."

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"The beauty of Julian was that he was the movement's true renaissance man," Mr. Jealous said. "He was a historian, he was a poet, in addition to being an activist and a strategist."

The SPLC, which Mr. Bond helped found, called him a "visionary" and "tireless champion" for civil and human rights.

"With Julian's passing, the country has lost one of its most passionate and eloquent voices for the cause of justice," SPLC co-founder Morris Dees said in a statement. "He advocated not just for African-Americans, but for every group, indeed every person subject to oppression and discrimination, because he recognized the common humanity in us all."

Mr. Bond is survived by his wife, Pamela Horowitz, a former SPLC staff attorney; five children, Phyllis Jane Bond-McMillan, Horace Mann Bond II, Michael Julian Bond, Jeffrey Alvin Bond, and Julia Louise Bond; a brother, James Bond; and a sister, Jane Bond Moore.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.