Julian Bond, a longtime civil rights activist and former NAACP chairman, passed away in Fort Walton Beach, Florida Saturday after battling a brief illness. Bond was 75. The legendary civil rights leader’s death was first announced by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the nonprofit advocacy group where Bond served as founding president in 1971 and remained on the board of directors until his death.
“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of legendary civil rights activist Julian Bond,” the SPLC wrote in a statement. “From his days as the co-founder and communications director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s to his chairmanship of the NAACP in the 21st century, Julian was a visionary and tireless champion for civil and human rights.”
As a member of the Civil Rights Movement in the early Sixties, Bond, then a student at Atlanta’s Morehouse College, formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which led protests against segregation and Georgia’s Jim Crow laws. In 1965, following the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Bond was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, where he served four terms. Bond would next spend six terms as a member of the Georgia Senate from 1975 to 1987.
“Julian Bond was a hero and, I’m privileged to say, a friend,” President Barack Obama said in a statement (via CNN), praising the activist’s lifetime mission of justice and equality. “Julian Bond helped change this country for the better. And what better way to be remembered than that.” Bill and Hillary Clinton said of Bond, “Julian lived his life at the center of the fight for civil rights, equality, and justice. Julian helped us to become a more perfect union and always pushed us to do better. We will miss him.”
In 1998, Bond was elected chairman of the NAACP, a post he’d hold until he vacated the position in 2010. In addition to all his advocacy work – Bond supported LGBT rights, protested apartheid (resulting in a 1985 arrest) and fought for climate change – Bond was also the first African-American politician to appear on Saturday Night Live after hosting a 1977 episode of the series. In 2007, Bond gave U2’s Bono the Chairman Award at the NAACP Awards.
“With Julian’s passing, the country has lost one of its most passionate and eloquent voices for the cause of justice. He advocated not just for African Americans, but for every group, indeed every person subject to oppression and discrimination, because he recognized the common humanity in us all,” the SPLC statement concluded. “Not only has the country lost a hero today, we’ve lost a great friend.”