Julian Bond: 1940-2015

By David Cohen

The outpouring of universal heartfelt and thoughtful tributes on the life of Julian Bond tell of the passion and intelligence of a life well lived,

In every sense Julian Bond was a universalist who always had that extra energy to correct a particular injustice. The specific was never ignored for the abstract. He always had his sight on the structural and systemic issues involved but never at the expense of correcting something that immediately improved people’s lives.

Julian served on the Council for a Livable World National Advisory Board with great distinction.

I did not know Julian well but I knew him well enough to talk through tactics on fights waged to stop horrible Federal Court appointments by Republican Presidents or what steps will hasten correcting the weakening of the Voting Rights Act by the Roberts Court. Those issues stand as part of his legacy.

Julian was elected to the Georgia legislature in his twenties and the Georgia solons, nearly all devotees of racial segregation, tried to bar him from serving. When I read that, I immediately thought of the times that other state legislatures and Congress tried to keep members from serving because they were socialists or opposed our entry into World War I. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Georgia legislature had to seat him.

Julian was a double sinner. He had moved from civil rights protest to successful politics by being elected to the state legislature. He was an early success of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. And he opposed the Vietnam War when most elected officials thought such opposition was unpatriotic.

Julian Bond early on knew that rights were not abstract. He was a living example of applying to the United States polity the principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that is part of the United Nations. Julian understood that we needed freedom from government’s excesses and a freedom for to create the interventions necessary to end inequality.

What made Julian special is that he acted on what he understood. Early on, as a legislator, he worked on creating tests for sickle cell anemia and low income housing. He was an effective legislator and demonstrated it by creating a majority-Black congressional district. That changes the distribution of power.

The contest for Congress with John Lewis, won by Lewis, provides an instructive tribute to Julian. I have known many elected officials who withdrew from public life after an electoral defeat. Not Julian. He served as Chairperson of the NAACP at a critical time for that venerable organization. He continued his scholarship by writing and teaching. He wrote what few of us can: poetry.

Julian’s breadth and depth had him understand the importance of reaching peace through hard negotiations. Among his last public statements was support for the Iran agreement framed in the larger setting of controlling the proliferation of nuclear weapons, peace in the Middle East and the influences of his Quaker education.

Julian was a fully engaged person who inspired many by his example. He also had a sense of the esthetic. His wife Pamela Sue Horowitz requested that persons place flowers in a body of water near them. Peace, beauty and repose in a fully engaged and committed life.