A Generation is Vanishing
The sudden loss of Julian Bond is stunning and historic. One of the founders of the SNCC, the late James Forman recruited him for SNCC when he saw from his resume that Julian was a journalism major. Eighteen months later I was also recruited by Forman because of my photo journalism. Julian and I shared an Atlanta office where we joked about being the Ministers of Propaganda. Luckily for me, I would know this person in a very special way for over fifty years. We sorely grieve his passing, yet the brilliance of a Julian Bond lives long after him. The new radicals, and there are myriad, “have absorbed” the things he fought for and many of the things he was.
A few years ago when we had lunch in Washington, I talked about wanting to record the voices of old revolutionaries when he said, “I’m not a revolutionary any more.” But he was one when it mattered, and his radicalism helped change the world. Actively denouncing the war in Vietnam, hardly the bailiwick for a founder of the fight against segregation (successful) and black voting rights (successful), he had the incredible guts to run for office in deep south Georgia and was blocked from being seated in the Georgia State Legislature because of his early and loud denunciation of the war in Vietnam. That attempt was unsuccessful as the Supreme Court seated him in the Georgia State Senate where he was greeted with boos.
Our friendship was based on our radicalism, our interest in arts (Julian was also poet) and our position in SNCC as journalists. Neither of us were supposed to get arrested and didn’t. Together with Dotty Miller, we made the posters and pamphlets which today are one of the few material objects left by SNCC. Years later when he asked me to speak to his class at Williams College, he asked if I had any pot, for that too had been an early bond. And told me he “never closed the door” when he had a student inside his office.
Because of gerrymandering, there are very specific districts in the South that could elect a black. So in Atlanta Julian was forced to run against his long time friend, the ex SNCC Chairman John Lewis for the seat in Congress. Julian lost, a profound loss for this country. Had he won, he might well have reached the Senate and had the bully pulpit this country so desperately needed to hear from. Julian told me that when Obama was elected he cried. He called it the greatest event of his lifetime. He cried because Julian was so Obama like, more than a generation ahead of time. His charm and brilliance were devastatingly effective in the cause of human rights. Our last meeting was at the National Geographic Society in Washington where we sat together on an illuminated stage both of us wearing tennis shoes trimmed in pink. By then we were in our seventies. In front of the cameras, he recalled first seeing me walk into the SNCC office when he said he noticed my “Jewfro”, referring to my big pile of dark curly hair, and I snapped back, “Watch it!” There was more of SNCC in this exchange than usually reaches the world from two men with white and gray hair. Now he is gone. Or is he? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjXHTMdjt9M