Friday, August 21, 2015

Goodbye Julian Bond, hero and powerful voice for justice, By Sandy Semerad

“Those were the days,” Julian Bond said, as I handed him a copy of my novel, A MESSAGE IN THE ROSES.
“It’s based on the murder trial I covered as a reporter in Atlanta back in the 1980s,” I explained.  He remembered the trial and the Klan march I wrote about in the novel.
            I felt fortunate to have reconnected with him. I wanted granddaughter Cody to meet a fearless and cool civil rights activist and listen to him speak at the Destin Library in Destin, Florida.
Although that was a year ago, it seems like yesterday. I can’t believe he’s no longer with us.
We have lost a hero and a powerful voice for justice.
I first saw Julian on television at the Democratic National Convention. He was nominated for Vice President of the United States, leading up to the 1968 election.  He was only 28 and had to decline, due to a constitutional age requirement of 35.
            Julian was ahead of his time. He began his activism at 17.  He helped lead the sit-in movement to fight segregation in Atlanta, and bravely spoke out with a deep and resonant voice for those with no voice in the Jim Crow South.
He was one of the Freedom Riders with Martin Luther King, Jr. and later helped start the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.
            In 1965, he was elected to the Georgia House of Representative. (The Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act had given blacks the opportunity to vote).
Although he was lawfully elected to serve, the Georgia House refused to seat him, because he had endorsed SNCC’s policy opposing the Vietnam War.
            Julian refused to back down. He fought for his rightful seat in the House. He took his case all the way to the United States Supreme Count. The high court ruled (Bond v. Floyd) in his favor, stating the Georgia House of Representatives couldn’t deny his freedom of speech. He went on to serve four terms in the Georgia House and six terms in the Georgia Senate.
            I remember meeting him face to face for the first time at a Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Atlanta. We kept running into each other while talking to the same people. We laughed at this coincidence and he said, “Must be in the stars.”
            And speaking of stars, he was a bright and shining beacon of hope, who spoke out for what he thought was right. For decades he's been saying black lives matter, women’s rights matter, gay rights matter, human rights matter, and he never gave up the fight.
“If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married,” he has said. He was born African American, just as some people were born gay, he said.
            Thanks to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Julian co-founded with Morris Dees, the Klan lost its vicious bite.  SPLC sought justice on behalf of victims. These lawsuits helped to break the Klan financially.
            I could go on and on about Julian Bond’s accomplishments. Not only was he a civil rights activist, commentator, eloquent speaker, professor, author, poet, Saturday Night Live host and occasional actor, he was also a husband, father and grandfather.
“He advocated not just for African-Americans but for every group, every person subject to oppression and discrimination, because he recognized the common humanity in us all,” Morris Dees has articulately said.
I say amen to that, as I bid farewell to a great man.

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