At the 1968 Democratic National Convention, after suffering too many setbacks in their drive to bring the ideals of the civil-rights and anti-war movements into their party, the most determined delegates decided to make one last stand for a new politics. They tried to nominate for the vice presidency of the United States a 28-year-old Georgia state legislator who had already battled and beaten the segregationists and the militarists.
Julian Bond, a co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who had marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (and who would go on to chair the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and serve as president of the Southern Poverty Law Center), had fought his way onto the floor of the most contentious convention in the party’s history. And in the waning hours of the tumultuous August 26-29 convention, he was at the center of an exquisite (if all too brief) uprising against the old politics.
Elected to the Georgia state legislature shortly after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted, Bond was denied his seat by the segregationist Democrats who controlled the statehouse. The stated reason for rejecting the will of the voters was Bond’s embrace of SNCC’s opposition to the war in Vietnam, as well as his support for protests against the draft. Bond’s battle earned national headlines in 1966, when a 9-0 US Supreme Court majority ordered that he be seated.
That long fight identified Bond in the minds of student activists, civil-rights advocates, and anti-war campaigners nationwide as a Democrat who was willing to fight party elders and even President Lyndon Johnson on matters of principle. Bond’s stature rose in 1968, when he helped to lead a challenge to the seating of the Georgia delegation to the Democratic National Convention, which was controlled by segregationist Governor Lester Maddox and his allies. Eventually, Bond and the “Loyal National Democrats” who challenged the segregationists were allowed to take seats on the convention floor—in one of the critical turning points of the convention and the long fight to open up the party.
But victories were few for the activists who had come to the convention as delegates supporting the liberal candidacies of Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern (who had stepped in as a candidate after the assassination of Bobby Kennedy). As Chicago authorities attacked student demonstrations outside the convention hall, the delegates inside the hall rejected an anti-war “peace plank” and then nominated Vice President Hubert Humphrey for the presidency—rejecting McCarthy and McGovern (and the Rev. Channing Phillips, the first African-American to have his name placed in nomination for president at the convention of a major party).