Bob Fitch photography archive, © Stanford University Libraries
Student activist Julian Bond first met Martin Luther King in 1960 when he was a student at Morehouse College. The two became better acquainted when Bond joined the small staff of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which shared an office with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In 1966, when Bond was refused his elected seat in the Georgia House of Representatives, King preached against the legislature’s action and organized a march in support of Bond.
Bond was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on 14 January 1940. His father, Horace Mann Bond, became the first African American president of Lincoln University in 1945. After finishing high school, Bond entered Morehouse College in 1957.
Bond’s political awakening began in early 1960 when he heard about the student sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina. Deciding to take similar action in Atlanta, Bond and fellow Morehouse student Lonnie King created the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights. Shortly thereafter, Bond attended a student conference sponsored by SCLC at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, where young activists decided to form SNCC. Bond was later hired as SNCC’s communications director.
In the autumn of 1961 King co-taught a small philosophy seminar at Morehouse with his former professor, Dr. Samuel Williams. Bond wrote that the class “became a class in ‘movement,’ and laid before us two of the greater minds I will ever know” (Bond, “If Alive Today”). Shortly after taking the class Bond dropped out of Morehouse to work full-time for SNCC.
In 1965 a prior federal court decision forced the creation of new state congressional districts in Georgia. SNCC had been working on voter registration in the rural South and recognized the reapportionment as an opportunity to put forward candidates who would support a civil rights agenda. Bond, like King, lived in the newly created 136th House District in Atlanta, which was 95 percent African American. The 25-year-old ran for his district’s seat in the Georgia House of Representatives, and won 82 percent of the vote with an untraditional door-to-door campaign.
A few days before Bond was to take office SNCC put out a press release opposing the Vietnam War and proposing civil rights work as an alternative to the draft. Bond publicly supported the press release, and the Georgia legislature, calling his stance treasonous, voted to refuse him his seat. King returned early from a trip to California, issued a press release calling the legislature’s act “unconscionable,” and led a protest rally to the state house (King, 12 January 1966). In his sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church that Sunday, King praised Bond as “a young man who dared to speak his mind,” using the incident as the foundation from which to preach on the biblical injunction to be a non-conformist: “If you’re going to be a Christian, take the gospel of Jesus Christ seriously, you must be a dissenter, you must be a non-conformist” (King, 16 January 1966).
With King as a co-plaintiff, Bond appealed the Georgia legislature's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously in his favor on 5 December 1966. He took his seat the following month. At the 1968 Democratic National Convention Bond co-chaired a challenge to the Georgia delegation, seconded the nomination of peace candidate Eugene McCarthy for president, and was nominated for the vice-presidency, but withdrew his name because he did not meet the minimum age required by the U.S. Constitution. In 1971 Bond returned to Morehouse College to earn a BA in English, and also became the first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He became a Georgia state senator in 1974 and served until 1986. Since leaving the State Senate Bond has held academic positions at American University and the University of Virginia. In 1998 Bond became chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Bond, “If Alive Today, He’d Tell Movement to ‘March On,’” Atlanta Journal Constitution, 14 January 1978.
Bond, Interview by Milton Viorst, November 1974, RBOH-DHU-MS.
Branch, At Canaan’s Edge, 2006.
Carson, In Struggle, 1981.
King, Press release, Statement on refusal to seat Julian Bond, 12 January 1966, MCMLK-RWWL.
King, Transformed Nonconformist, Sermon Delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church, 16 January 1966, MLKJP-GAMK.
Neary, Julian Bond, 1971.