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Civil Rights Luminaries Remember Julian Bond As A Dogged Advocate

Civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams speaks during the memorial service for the late civil rights leader Julian Bond, who succeeded her as leader of the NAACP, on Tuesday at the Lincoln Theater in Washington.
Manuel Balce Ceneta

Friends, family and fellow activists paid homage to late civil rights leader Julian Bond on Tuesday night at a memorial service at the historic Lincoln Theatre in Washington, D.C. The former NAACP chairman died in August at 75 after a brief illness.

Bond's widow, Pamela Horowitz, welcomed the invited guests — a diverse group that included civil rights activists, members of Congress and college students — and thanked them for honoring his mission and "how you will continue to honor him by doing the work that consumed his life."

The Freedom Singers performed civil rights movement classics, including " Woke Up This Morning." Speakers remembered Bond's lifelong devotion to the cause of human rights, dating to his start with the the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Judy Richardson first met him in 1963.

"We in SNCC bonded as 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds often do," she says. "Except that our bonds were forged in struggle, and was made stronger because racists at every level were trying to kill us."

Richardson later worked for Bond's first political campaign, when he was elected to the Georgia legislature. Bond went on to serve as the first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and later as chairman of the NAACP. Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of Medger Evers, held that position before him.

"There was a certain gentle strength in his voice," Evers-Williams says. "One that commanded attention and respect, but without being loud and boisterous. He knew his wisdom."

Bond's son Michael — the middle of five children — says the family remembers a kind and funny father, who watched TV and ate pizza on Saturday nights. The Atlanta city councilman says they also remember a dad on a crusade to make America stand up for what it talks about.

"And to go on fighting when the fight is required," Michael Bond says. "Pursuing freedom for all people. For he often said 'it's one thing to get free, but quite another to stay free.' "

Bond had been teaching civil rights history at the University of Virginia and American University, and was an early voice calling for equality for same-sex couples. Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, says Bond was in the courtroom the day the U.S. Supreme Court considered its landmark marriage equality case.

"There was perhaps no one in the room that day who had done more to realize those words — equal justice under law — than Julian Bond," Griffin says.

After the service, Luci Baines Johnson, President Lyndon Johnson's daughter, said she was moved by Bond's legacy.

"That's really what he was about — completing that circle for opportunity for all," Johnson says.

Her sister, Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, says those Bond left behind should take up the work.

"We all felt energized now to go out and do more and to try to follow in his footsteps more and to be rejuvenated," she says. "Like a B-12 shot."

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NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South and occasionally guest-hosting NPR news programs. She covers the latest news and politics and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
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