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Julian Bond, Civil Rights Leader And Longtime NAACP Chair, Dies At 75

Then NAACP Chairman Julian Bond addresses the civil rights organization's annual convention in Detroit in 2007. Bond, a civil rights activist and longtime board chairman of the NAACP, died Saturday, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. He was 75.
Paul Sancya

Updated at 1:15 p.m. ET

Julian Bond, a key civil rights activist and anti-war campaigner who helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and later served for years as the chairman of the NAACP, has died at age 75.

Julian Bond on the streets of the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn in 1968. The civil rights activist has died at the age of 75.
/ AP
Julian Bond on the streets of the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn in 1968. The civil rights activist has died at the age of 75.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, where Bond served as president in the 1970s, announced his death in a statement on Sunday. The SPLC said Bond died Saturday evening in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

"With Julian's passing, the country has lost one of its most passionate and eloquent voices for the cause of justice," the center's statement read. "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."

The Associated Press writes: "The Nashville, Tenn., native was considered a symbol and icon of the 1960s civil rights movement. As a Morehouse College student, Bond helped found [SNCC] and as its communications director, he was on the front lines of protests that led to the nation's landmark civil rights laws."

Bond played a major role in sit-ins and freedom rides and the 1963 March on Washington.

The New York Times says: "He moved from the militancy of the student group to the top leadership of the establishmentarian N.A.A.C.P. Along the way, he was a writer, poet, television commentator, lecturer, college teacher, and persistent opponent of the stubborn remnants of white supremacy."

When he was elected to the Georgia Legislature in 1965, the chamber refused to seat him, citing his support for a group that called U.S. actions in Vietnam "murder." He took the fight all the way to the Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled in his favor. The Times notes that he spent his two decades in the state's legislature, "mostly in conspicuous isolation from white colleagues who saw him as an interloper and a rabble-rouser."

In 1986, Bond ran against his long-time friend and SNCC co-founder John Lewis to represent Georgia's 5th Congressional District, but was narrowly defeated in runoff.

Speaking to NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday today, Rep. Lewis acknowledged that the contest created "a little schism for a while" between the two, but said they later renewed their friendship.

"Julian Bond was just smart, just smart. Brilliant," Lewis told host Rachel Martin. He was "a wonderful writer, a poet. He had a great sense of humor. He could make you laugh until you wanted to cry. But he worked very hard."

Asked Bond's legacy, Lewis said: "Julian must be remembered as having inspired another generation of young people to stand up, to speak up and speak out. He traveled all over America, speaking on college campuses, but also to large groups for peace, for non-violence and for protecting the environment."

In an interview with NPR in 2010, Bond said of SNCC: "I think our greatest triumph was that we existed at all, that these young people of college age, some of high school age, a couple a little older, put together an organization against the advice of our elders, dropped out of college, many of us — against the advice of our parents — created an organization that dared to go into the rural South, where resistance to racial justice was greatest.

"The fact that we were able to do this at all and do it successfully and win victories I think is a great triumph that all of us who had anything to do with this are immensely proud of today," he told NPR.

Bond served for a decade as board chairman of the 500,000-member NAACP, declining to run again in 2010.

In a White House statement, President Obama said: "Julian Bond was a hero and, I'm privileged to say, a friend. Justice and equality was the mission that spanned his life — from his leadership of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, to his founding role with the Southern Poverty Law Center, to his pioneering service in the Georgia legislature and his steady hand at the helm of the NAACP."

Bond is survived by his wife, Pamela Horowitz, and five children from his first marriage.

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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