Julian Bond: civil rights activist

May 11, 2016, by Guest blog

Julian Bond: a celebration

Join us at the British Academy to celebrate the life and activism of Julian Bond (1940-2015) on Tuesday 24 May at 6pm for a free event

Post by Professor Sharon Monteith.

Julian Bond was booked as keynote speaker in London but sadly passed away in August 2015. In the obituary I wrote then, I promised that we would dedicate the conference that takes place on the 24th, 25th and 26th May to him.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

Shortly, we will come together to remember Julian Bond, a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and its Communications Director in the 1960s.

In an open letter to the activist journal Freedomways in 1962 Bond wrote, “SNCC is working in the South in areas no other civil rights group has ever been to, with farmers, domestics, laborers, and people who really want to be free.” It was a proud definition of one of SNCC’s original goals and Bond returned to it forty years later in a piece he wrote called “SNCC: What We Did” (2000): “While organizing grassroots voter-registration drives, SNCC workers offered themselves as a protective barrier between private and state-sponsored terror and the local communities where SNCC staffers lived and worked.” (http://monthlyreview.org/001001bond.php0).

In 2010 celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of SNCC’s founding, Bond said,” They told us that in Mississippi, segregation could only be attacked from the outside, and we went right to the heart of the beast and attacked it there and beat it there.”

Bond was always proud to have been a member of SNCC, “a band of brothers and sisters” and “a circle of trust” as its members described the organisation, and one of the things I hope our discussion will draw out is how important it was for him to  remain part of a group— and to speak with as well as for others— even as he forged a political career that took him from the Georgia House of Representatives to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, where he served as first President in the 1970s. He became Chairman of the NAACP, the US’s oldest civil rights organisation founded in 1909, for which he served from 1998-2008. He hosted “America’s Black Forum” from 1980 to 1997. Bond served in many capacities as a social activist, a politician and in many different film and television contexts: he even hosted Saturday Night Live. More importantly, he also changed the law. In Bond v. Floyd 1965 he challenged the fact that the Georgia House of representatives had refused to seat him (as one of 11 African American members elected) because— as a member of SNCC—he opposed the American war in Vietnam.  In 1966 he was finally seated. The case he brought made it clear in law that elected representatives to a state legislature could not be excluded because the views they hold might challenge the status quo. Bond stayed in the Georgia legislature for twenty years.

Former SNCC activist Judy Richardson worked with Bond and campaigned as his office manager for his election in 1965. She will join us in London to talk about her friend, as an activist and also as the narrator of Eyes on the Prize, the ground-breaking 14-hour documentary that is one of many films being screened and discussed at the British Academy conference. http://www.britac.ac.uk/events/2016/Civil_Rights_Documentary_Cinema.cfm

UK premiere of Julian Bond film-biography

On Tuesday 24th at our evening event, Eduardo Montes-Bradley will discuss his film-biography of Bond which will have its first UK screening on May 24th and Clayborne Carson, director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute, will remember the man he knew over many decades. Interviewed together with Bond in 2010, Carson said: “A lot of the issues that I think SNCC was dealing with in the 1960s are 21st-century issues.” Julian never minced his words on those issues as can be heard in his 2005 speech to the 96th annual convention of the NAACP where he criticised “organizations dedicated to overturning the gains of the civil rights movement by putting a black face on civil rights opposition” as roundly as he criticised the Bush administration. Montes-Bradley, Bond’s film biographer has said: “History is … indivisible and extremely complex… Understanding Selma and the March on Washington helps me better understand the massacre of Tlatelolco, the student movements in Paris and Berlin, and my own frustrations with the Argentine experience. I owe that much, and perhaps more, to the perspectives and generosity of Mr. Bond.”

To register please go to http://www.britac.ac.uk/events/2016/Julian_Bond.cfm

Sharon Monteith, The Centre for Research in Race and Rights, University of Nottingham


Posted in American and Canadian StudiesFilmPublic engagement