Just as we’ve seen this month outside the Tennessee Capitol, there was a protest in January 1966 outside the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta. The protest was led by one of Bond’s constituents, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who addressed the crowd.
Here is some rare footage of that protest. (The sound footage with King’s speech begins at the 1:16 mark).
So let’s go back to 1965-67. It’s like deja vu all over again because there are many parallels to what we’ve seen in Tennessee.
Bond was actually born in Nashville in 1940. He first met King in 1960 when he was a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta. Bond would go on to become the communications director for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which was the spearhead of the Civil Rights Movement in the South.
The SNCC organized sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters and other public facilities, the Freedom Rides to integrate interstate transportation, and voter registration drives in the rural Black Belt. Many of its members were arrested and beaten; some were murdered.
The passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act led a federal court to issue a ruling forcing Georgia to redraw its state legislative map, creating three new Black-majority districts in Atlanta. Bond’s friends, including SNCC Chairman John Lewis, convinced him to run for the seat in his home district.
At first Bond wasn’t even sure whether he wanted to run as a Democrat or a Republican, according to SNCC’s online Digital Gateway.
Reflecting on the problem, he asked himself, “do I want to be in the party headed by Barry Goldwater, or do I want to be in the party headed by Lyndon Johnson?’ And I said, ‘I want to be in Johnson’s party.’ And I ran as a Democrat.”
Bond’s campaign was unlike any other Black voters had seen before in the South because it was modeled on SNCC’s “grassroots organizing.” He spent weeks doing door-to-door canvassing and meeting with all kinds of community groups.
His office manager, Judy Richardson, said her most enduring image of the campaign was Bond’s meeting with 10 elderly, low-income Black ladies belonging to the Red Rosebud Savings Club. Richardson recalled that the women were impressed with “his intelligence and his demeanor.”
“But, it was when he began talking that they understood he was not your typical politician. Because Julian didn’t just tell them about his platform—he asked what they wanted in that platform: this was a SNCC political campaign. And so the women talked about the things—big and small—that they wanted for themselves and their families. And Julian listened.”
Bond told an interviewer: “We tried to run on issues and not labels, on people’s concerns and not their prejudices.” His campaign released a platform that demanded an increase in the Georgia minimum wage to $2 an hour, the end of “right to work laws,” streetlights, repaving heavily trafficked streets, and abolishing the death penalty.
Bond ended up winning the election with 82% of the vote. At 25, he was the youngest of 11 Black candidates elected to the Georgia legislature in 1965—the most since the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era. But the celebrations were short-lived.
On Jan. 3, 1966, Sammy Younge Jr., a 21-year-old SNCC worker and college student, tried to use the “whites only” bathroom at a service station in his hometown of Tuskegee. He was shot and killed by a 68-year-old white gas station attendant. Younge had served in the U.S. Navy for two years before receiving a medical discharge after having a kidney removed. Younge’s murder pushed SNCC to become the first civil rights organization to make a public statement opposing the war in Vietnam.
In the statement, SNCC’s Executive Committee declared that the organization had the “right and responsibility to dissent with United States foreign policy on any issue.”
Younge had been murdered, they wrote, “because United States law is not being enforced.” Likewise in the war, the statement read, “Vietnamese are murdered because the United States is pursuing an aggressive policy in violation of international law.” SNCC pointed to the hypocrisy of United States foreign policy on the basis of “democracy,” while cries of protection for those working for democracy in the Black community went ignored. Younge’s murder made the connection between Vietnam and the American South clear.
The statement, released on Jan. 6, also set the stage for SNCC activists to resist military induction. The Executive Committee said “work in the civil rights movement … is a valid alternative to the draft. We urge all Americans to seek this alternative, knowing full well that it may cost them their lives – as painfully as in Vietnam.” (Here is a link to the original statement.)
Bond had no role in drafting the statement. But when asked by a radio reporter whether he endorsed it, Bond replied:
“I endorse it, first, because I like to think of myself as a pacifist, and one who opposes that war and any other war, and eager and anxious to encourage people not to participate in it for any reason that they choose. And secondly, I agree with this statement because of the reason set forth in it — because I think it is sorta hypocritical for us to maintain that we are fighting for liberty in other places and we are not guaranteeing liberty to citizens inside the continental United States.
Well, I think that the fact that the United States Government fights a war in Viet Nam, I don't think that I, as a second class citizen of the United States, have a requirement to support that war. I think my responsibility is to oppose things that I think are wrong if they are in Vietnam or New York, or Chicago, or Atlanta, or wherever."
That set off a firestorm of criticism among white members of the Georgia House, who were pro-segregation Dixiecrats opposed to everything SNCC stood for. Bond was labeled as disloyal, treasonous, and subversive.
White members of the House challenged his right to represent the 136th House District, saying his endorsement of the SNCC statement was “totally and completely repugnant.” They said Bond’s statements aided our enemies, violated the Selective Service laws, discredited the House, and were inconsistent with the legislator's mandatory oath to support the Constitution.
Bond disputed the charges against him. He said he viewed them as a racially motivated and unconstitutional attempt to strip him of his First Amendment rights and deny his district’s voters the representative of their choice.
One Black representative exposed the racism beneath the decision not to seat Bond. He said a white political leader had told him, "This boy has got to come before the committee, recant, and just plain beg a little."
On Jan. 10, 1966, the House voted 184-12 to refuse to seat Bond.
King cut short a fundraising trip to California to lead a protest demanding that Bond be allowed to take his seat in the House. It wasn’t until April 1967 that King would make his first major public statement opposing the Vietnam War.
Upon arriving in Atlanta, King told reporters: “It is ironic that some of the prominent persons who now question Mr. Bond's willingness to uphold the Constitution of the U.S. have failed miserably in this regard.”
King led a protest by about 800 people outside the State Capitol. In his Sunday sermon on April 16 at Ebenezer Baptist Church, he praised Bond as “a young man who dared to speak his mind.” He said, “If you’re going to be a Christian, take the gospel of Jesus Christ seriously, you must be a dissenter, you must be a non-conformist.”
More significantly, King signed on as a co-plaintiff in a federal lawsuit demanding that the legislature seat Bond. As the case wound its way through the courts, Georgia’s governor called a special election to fill the vacant seat. Bond won the election by a huge margin, but the white members of the Georgia House again refused to seat him. Bond then won the November 1966 regular election for a new legislative term—the third time he had been chosen to represent the district.
On Dec. 5, 1966, in a unanimous 9-0 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the Georgia House of Representatives to seat Bond. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote:
“Legislators have an obligation to take positions on controversial political questions so that their constituents can be fully informed by them, and be better able to assess their qualifications for office; also so they may be represented in governmental debates by the person they have elected to represent them.
“We therefore hold that the disqualification of Bond from membership in the Georgia House because of his statements violated Bond’s right of free expression under the First Amendment.””
On Jan. 9, 1967, Bond finally took his seat in the Georgia House.
At the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Bond was involved in the challenge to Georgia’s white supremacist delegation led by Gov. Lester Maddox. He seconded the nomination of anti-war presidential candidate Sen. Eugene McCarthy and was even nominated for vice president. He withdrew his name because he did not meet the minimum age required under the U.S. Constitution.
Bond’s political career ended in 1986 after he lost the Democratic primary for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives to fellow SNCC activist and civil rights icon John Lewis.
Bond never gave up the struggle for a better and more just America. He opposed the war in Iraq. He was an outspoken supporter of same-sex marriage and reproductive rights. He also narrated the award-winning PBS documentary Eyes on the Prize about the Civil Rights Movement.
In a 2013 interview for the Center for American Progress, Bond declared: “You could not be in the civil rights movement without having an appreciation for everybody’s rights.” He said:
“Everybody has rights—I don’t care who you are, what you do, where you come from, how you were born, what your race or creed or color is. You have rights. Everybody’s got rights.”
Bond gave one of his last public speeches on May 2, 2015, at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. He spoke about the events surrounding his struggle to be seated in the Georgia legislature. And he said: “We practiced dissent then. We must practice dissent now. We must, as Dr. King taught us, “move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history.”
Bond died on Aug. 15, 2015. He left behind a legacy for a new generation to carry forward.
It took a year for Bond to claim his seat in the Georgia House. It took less than a week for Justin Jones to reclaim his seat in the Tennessee House. Jones’ first speech to the legislature Monday evening would have been quite appropriate for Bond to deliver in January 1967.
"I want to welcome democracy back to the people's house," Jones said. I want to thank you all, not for what you did, but for awakening the people of this state, particularly the young people,” Jones said. “Thank you for reminding us that the struggle for justice is fought and won in every generation."
He added: "No expulsion, no attempt to silence us will stop us, but only galvanize and strengthen our movement. We continue to show up in the people's house. Power to the people!"
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