Barbara Ransby Talks with Julian Bond

Memories of Julian Bond

(1940 – 2015)


Keynote Speaker at SJI’s Freedom Dreams/ Freedom Now Conference in 2014


Julian Bond

I first met Julian Bond as a graduate student in the early 1990s when I was working on my dissertation on Ella Baker. I gave a paper on Baker at the Organization of American Historians’ annual meeting. I saw Julian (who I thought of as Mr. Bond at the time) in the audience. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) veterans are a tough bunch. They don’t mince words and they don’t like folks meddling in their history, unless they are prepared to do enough work to get the story right. So, I was nervous when I saw Julian coming toward the stage after the panel. Maybe I could act like I did not notice him and hurry off in the other direction. But there was no time. He looked right at me, striding with a confident gait, and a purposeful gaze. These were not good signs, I thought to myself. When he finally reached me, he stuck out his hand and said “well done.” What a relief. I moved forward with greater determination to finish the dissertation and then the book. Every time I saw him after that he was friendly, warm, and generous.


Julian Bond at Freedom Dreams/Freedom Now

Like Dr. King, Julian Bond came from a Black family of relative privilege. His father received a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago at a time when few African Americans even finished high school. He went on to serve as president of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Julian became a Morehouse man, like Martin King, but unlike Martin he dropped out of college to work fulltime in the movement. He could have enjoyed a more comfortable life than he did. He could have been a lawyer or academic and avoided the conflict and struggle that defined his political career. He did not take the easy road. He was a founding member of the SNCC in 1960 and in 1965 he was elected to the Georgia State Legislature but encountered stiff opposition because of his principled stance against the war in Vietnam. He went on to serve 20 years in that same body.


Barbara Ransby Talks with Julian Bond

One of the most impressive things about Julian Bond was that he was not selective in his advocacy for justice. After the 1960s he fought for a range of progressive causes. In the 1980s he was arrested in front of the South African embassy protesting the racist system of Apartheid in South Africa. Later, as chairman of the NAACP, he spoke out for reproductive choice, declaring in one speech that abortion rights were equal to the right to eat at a desegregated lunch counter. And he did not shy away from gay rights. He was so adamant that homophobia could not be tolerated that he refused to attend Coretta Scott King’s funeral because it was held in the church of a notoriously anti-gay minister in Atlanta. He testified before Congress on immigration reform. At age 73 he was arrested in front of the White House demonstrating his opposition to the Keystone Pipeline and his support for environmental justice. He was not afraid of controversy or suffering discomfort for his beliefs.


Julian Bond

Last year marked the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the pivotal moment in the U.S. Black Freedom Movement when young people (including Julian) allied themselves with southern black maids, teachers and sharecroppers to challenge Jim Crow disenfranchisement and violence. We hosted a conference in Chicago to commemorate that anniversary called Freedom Dreams/ Freedom Now. Julian was one of our keynote speakers. The audience of 500 people was riveted as he recounted dramatic episodes in the history of the movement, especially highlighting the issue of government surveillance. He had been reluctant to come to Chicago last spring, given other commitments and travel obligations, but I persuaded him that his voice was needed. He finally agreed and in the end he told me he was glad that he came. We were too. He was impressed with our students and young activists with whom he interacted. He was thinking of both the past and the future.


Julian Bond

I will always remember Julian Bond for his humor, his wit, and his charm. But I will also remember that he did not take the easy road. A group of quilters joined us for Freedom Dreams/ Freedom Now gathering and created a beautiful mosaic quilt reflecting the connections between many different justice struggles. I will think of Julian when I look at that quilt. It aptly symbolizes what his life was about. When he referred to his people he meant all of us.

by Barbara Ransby