This past Sunday, August 16, our nation awoke to the shocking news that Julian Bond had died. In the opening lines reporting his death, the New York Times described Mr. Bond as “a charismatic figure of the 1960s civil rights movement, a lightning rod of the anti-war campaign and a lifelong champion of equal rights … .” President Obama later said: “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.”
Yes, Julian Bond fought against injustice for more than 50 years no matter where it existed in society. While he is best known for his enormous leadership in the Civil Rights Movement that focused on oppression and discrimination against African Americans, this “visionary” and “tireless champion” for civil and human rights—in the words of the Southern Poverty Law Center—sought to end inhumane and often unlawful treatment against all people based on race, ethnicity, gender, poverty and so on. As an early proponent of same-sex marriage, for instance, Bond was among the few veterans of the Civil Rights Movement to draw a link between racial discrimination of the 1960s and the drive for marriage equality. In July 2013, he was arrested along with several other activists for protesting in front of the White House while demanding that President Obama deny the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and address the crisis of climate change.
It seems hard for many of us to get our heads around how long it has been since Julian Bond burst initially into the American consciousness as one of the many college students (largely from HBCUs) that became crusaders for justice who understood that a college education should mean more than acquiring a diploma to hang on a wall and getting a good job! Urbane, intellectual, charismatic, articulate and committed were words often used to describe him at the time. Despite his youth, he was one of the prominent faces of “the movement.” Today, his voice is silenced but not forgotten. While some have opined that his death signals the end of an era in many ways, others say that it should remind us that the fight for justice and human rights continues to require “soldiers for justice” that are armed with intellect, data, communication acumen and preparation. Those were all attributes of Julian Bond.
While Julian Bond fought the good fight and while much progress has occurred, the battle for a fully just society for African Americans and many other groups in the United States and the world is far from over. In the celebration of his life, it is incumbent upon all of us—especially for those of us in the higher education community—who say that we are committed to a socially just society to reinvigorate our efforts and resolve to make it a reality.
Ironically, Julian Bond’s death occurs on the eve of the formal launching of the Marie Fielder Center for Democracy, Leadership and Education at Fielding Graduate University. The center is named in honor of yet another, although far lesser known (like many women who were a part of the civil rights movement), African American civil rights hero of the 1960s, Marie Fielder. Marie Fielder was one of the most influential women in California history and in her own way played a significant role in the civil rights movement in both California and nationally. The Marie Fielder Center will pick up the torch and advance the legacy left by Julian Bond and many others from the civil rights era to champion social justice throughout our society though education, research, and advocacy.
Orlando Taylor is Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Research at Fielding Graduate University. He was a longtime professor and senior administrator at Howard University and is known throughout the country as an advocate for higher education engagement in the quest for social justice and inclusion.