In Memoriam: Julian Bond

Former NAACP chair and civil rights leader was GW’s 2008 Commencement speaker.

August 17, 2015

Julian Bond speaks on stage

Civil rights leader Julian Bond served as GW's 2008 commencement speaker. (File photo)

Julian Bond, former chair of the NAACP and 2008 George Washington University Commencement speaker, whose lifelong efforts to promote equal rights led to the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), died Saturday in Fort Walton Beach, Fla, after a brief illness. He was 75.

His efforts as a young leader during the modern civil rights movement were numerous. Mr. Bond helped found SNCC in 1960 while he was a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta. Beginning in 1966, he served more than two decades in the Georgia General Assembly. In 1971, he, along with Morris Dees and Joseph J. Levin Jr., founded the SPLC, with Mr. Bond serving as the organization’s first president.

He was named chair of the NAACP in 1998 and served in the position until 2010. Mr. Bond later taught at Harvard University, Williams College and the University of Pennsylvania. He held faculty positions at American University and the University of Virginia until his death, announced by the SPLC on Sunday.

A charismatic figure known for his quick wit and commitment to promoting equal rights, Mr. Bond received an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree from GW in 2008 when he served as the first Commencement speaker of President Steven Knapp’s tenure at the university.

“I was honored when he accepted my invitation; he addressed our graduates with his usual brilliance and eloquence,” Dr. Knapp wrote in a letter to NAACP Chair Roslyn M. Brock. “I have admired Julian Bond's visionary leadership for many years and was thinking about him recently when I read about some of the ongoing achievements of the Southern Poverty Law Center. All of us at GW are proud to count him as an honorary alumnus.”

Mr. Bond most recently appeared at a GW event in late 2013 as a guest on “The Kalb Report” to reflect on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

“The beauty of the March on Washington is that [Martin Luther King Jr.] was speaking to a large number of white people who had never seen a black person give an entire speech,” Mr. Bond said that day. “All of a sudden, here’s this articulate man explaining why we’re marching, why we’re protesting. He made it so clear and so plain that you could not help but say, ‘Gee, he’s making a real argument here, and we ought to listen to him.’”

His death sparked reaction from local and national leaders, including President Barack Obama and Ms. Brock, M.H.S.A. ’89. GW alumna and fellow university commencement speaker Kerry Washington, B.A. ’98, published a series of tweets following the announcement: