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.
His name was Julian Bond.
Bond, who has died at age 75, will be remembered for many things: from standing with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to supporting #BlackLivesMatter protests, from co-founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the early 1960s to chairing the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People during the Bush-Cheney years and serving as president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, from his campaigning for economic justice with Michael Harrington and the democratic socialists who tried to transform the Democratic Party in the 1970s to his early and outspoken activism on behalf of LGBT rights.
Bond believed in building unprecedented coalitions and in practicing solidarity even when it made his political path a difficult one.
Elected to the Georgia state legislature shortly after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted, the 25-year-old civil-rights activist was denied his seat by the segregationist Democrats who controlled the statehouse. The stated reason for rejected 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 in ordered that Bond 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 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.