NAACP Chair revisits Selma: Bond speaks highly of Obama

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Selma Times-Journal

The once black, wavy hair is now almost totally gray. His lean, thin frame is still distinguishable.

In 1968 he became the first black man nominated by the Democratic Party as its choice for vice president. He was forced to decline since constitutional provisions required candidates be at least 35 years of age.

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Before that time and since, Julian Bond has remained a figure in American politics. From his nonpartisan role as chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, he continues to pursue social justice issues.

Bond, who has chaired the NAACP since 1998, was in Selma on Wednesday with a group of alumni from the University of Virginia, where he teaches a course called American History of Civil Rights. For years Bond had dreamed of touring some of the same places he visited and worked as director of communications for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the Civil Rights Movement.

Stepping out of his role as chairman of the NAACP, Bond shared some personal thoughts of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who was in Selma less than three weeks ago for the annual commemoration of “Bloody Sunday.” Bond, who toured the National Voting Rights Museum, was energized at the chance to talk contemporary politics. He knows a little about being a young man, involved in politics.

“He’s a remarkable guy,” Bond said of the 44-year-old senator from Chicago. “I’ve been around him, but I’ve never heard him speak. I’ve seen him on TV, and he’s wildly popular with young people.

“For them to say he doesn’t have the experience to be president as a one-term senator, is not so. He’s had experiences no other candidate in the field has had. He was president of the Harvard Law Review, and could have worked anywhere he wanted. But what did he do, he chose to become a community organizer in Chicago. All of that has made him well qualified for the office.”

Bond said America was ready for its first black president, and he hoped the work that was done by people like Shirley Chisholm and Jesse Jackson helped prepare the nation.

“Like they did, Obama’s going to bring more people to the electoral process … young people. And it’s unfair to say but young people have always been there,” he said. “They just haven’t been there in ways you would readily recognize.”

He encouraged young people to get involved, regardless of who their candidate was, and help them campaign, raise money and tell their friends about their candidates.

Bond’s last trip to Selma was in 2000. He was the master of ceremonies for President Bill Clinton’s speaking engagement. Walking past the exact spot the stage was erected at the foot of Broad Street and Water Avenue, with the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the background, he draws a point of reference.

“I remember coming down from the platform and there was Mayor (Joe) Smitherman,” Bond recalled. “I had a nice little talk with him, something I never did back in the day.”

“The day” to which Bond refers was actually during the turbulent 1960s. While a student at Morehouse College, he helped found the student civil rights organization the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights (COAHR). COAHR led non-violent anti-segregation protests that led to the integration of movie theaters, lunch counters, and parks in Atlanta.

Easter weekend of 1960, Bond was one of the several hundred students who formed SNCC. He soon became SNCC’s communications director. One of his roles was editing the SNCC newsletter, the Student Voice. As a member of SNCC, Bond also took part in voter registration drives in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

In 1961, Bond left Morehouse to join the staff of the Atlanta Inquirer, a new protest paper. He became the paper’s managing editor. In 1971, he returned to Morehouse and graduated with a degree in English. Bond then went on to serve 20 years in the Georgia General Assembly. He holds honorary degrees from 19 colleges and universities and has served on the boards of numerous civil rights organizations. He is also a Distinguished Professor at American University in Washington, D.C.

During the 1968 Presidential Election, Bond led a challenge delegation from Georgia to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and was the first African-American nominated as Vice President of the United States. He withdrew his name from the ballot, however, because of the Constitutional requirement that a person must be at least 35 years of age to serve. He was 28.

Bond resigned from the State Senate to run for the United States House of Representatives, but he lost to civil rights leader John Lewis.

He helped found the Southern Poverty Law Center, a public interest law firm based in Montgomery, along with Morris Dees. He was that organization’s president from 1971 to 1979. Bond remains a member of the board of directors of the SPLC, and met with Dees and the staff on Tuesday during their visit to Montgomery.

“I wasn’t in Selma for the march in 1965,” Bond said. “I was here before the march, and was in Montgomery when marchers arrived. I remember staying with a family, sleeping on the sofa in the housing project near Alabama State (University).

I was writing press releases and sending them out to the black press.”

A chairman of the NAACP Bond recently helped the organization through the resignation of its newest director, Bruce Gordon, who served for 19 months. Dennis Hayes was named interim director and Bond says the organization is “doing fine.”

Walking along Water Avenue toward the Old Depot Museum, Bond remarked on the potential Selma has.

“There are so many assets. The waterfront is such a tremendous asset, and there’s all this,” Bond said, pointing at the falling facades. “If it’s ever developed, what an asset this would be.”