A remembrance of Julian Bond, the journalist (All Digitocracy)

Julian Bond2


Image courtesy of American University

Image courtesy of American University

Julian Bond was youthfully handsome, witty and urbane, yet as individuals take a measure of the civil rights icon’s life, other qualities emerge: staying power, and stamina. Bond, who died Saturday at age 75, was only 25 when he was elected with seven other African-Americans to the Georgia legislature in 1965. Bond was especially unwelcome; he was a co- founder of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and an unequivocal critic of the Vietnam War, which had just escalated.

In addition to politics and civil rights advocacy, Bond was a savvy media professional. As a SNCC member, Bond was communications director and “deftly guided the national news media toward stories of violence and discrimination as the committee challenged legal segregation in the South’s public facilities,” said Roy Reed’s New York Times piece.

With journalist Morris Dees, Bond co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center. That center’s advocacy and tenacity was awe-inspiring. It successfully sued Ku Klux Klan chapters for millions over decades and effectively declawed a long-time domestic terrorist group.

And Bond in 1970 provided guidance to pioneering journalists of color. “Go out … and slay the dragon!” he urged the class of the Summer Program for Minority Journalists at Columbia University. Some skeptical trainees suspected their teachers were trying to make them white, wrote Gary Gilson for the Star Tribune, who was an instructor at the time. Bond, however, assured the trainees that their jobs were to report critically on the powerful without fear or favor and then speak truth to power to their audiences. That class, noted Gilson, included Maureen Bunyan, one of the 44 founders of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and longtime Washington, D.C., anchorwoman.

Bond was also the charming host of “America’s Black Forum,” an iconic syndicated public affairs TV program. I watched him at an NABJ regional conference in Cincinnati in 1993. At that time, the NAACP was financially vulnerable and much of its leadership was bloated and sluggish. Yet keynoter Bond affirmed the organization’s relevance.

“Who you’re gonna call,” Bond challenged, “Ice-T?” At that time, the rapper was under siege for his incendiary recording “Cop killer.” Bond too had been accused at times for using fiery rhetoric, yet the measure of his life revealed that he was a vigilant and effective outside agitator, and, political insider.

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Wayne DawkinsWayne Dawkins is an associate professor at Hampton University’s Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications in Hampton, Virginia.