Civil Liberties

Civil Rights Figure Julian Bond Dies at 75

Once argued 1980 Libertarian presidential candidate Ed Clark and his running mate David Koch deserved to be heard as 'real choices' for American voters.


"Julian Bond: Reflections…"

Civil rights figure Julian Bond, a former president of the Southern Poverty Law Center and chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who served as a Georgia state legislator from 1967 to 1987, died this weekend aged 75. From 1980 until 1997 he hosted the television program America's Black Forum, which is where I was first exposed to him. 

The Washington Post reports

A onetime student of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Mr. Bond became active in the civil rights movement in his teens. He was a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the early 1960s and was on the front lines of civil rights battles in the South. His name was briefly placed in nomination for the vice presidency at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, when he was too young to assume the office. 

For a time in the 1960s and 1970s, there was open talk that Mr. Bond could well be the nation's first black president. 

Bond ran against Rep. John Lewis in the Democratic primary in 1986, and lost by four percent despite raising more money and picking up more celebrity endorsements. Lewis, a friend from the civil rights movement, criticized Bond for spending too much time on television, saying there was "nothing he ever took the initiative on" and demanding Bond take a drug test, as the Post reports. Lewis says his relationship with Bond recovered after the election, and after Bond's death Lewis told the Post he "was my closest and dearest, most reliable friend within the civil rights movement" whom he loved "like a brother." 

After the 1986 election, however, his first wife claimed Bond was a cocaine user and that he was having an affair with a woman who was his drug supplier. Although she eventually walked her story back, Bond never held elective office again, becoming a "grand old man" of the civil rights movement before turning 50. 

Of note for Reason readers, in an October 1980 column Julian Bond suggested Libertarian presidential candidate Ed Clark should have taken Jimmy Carter's place in a presidential debate in which the Democratic incumbent declined to participate. That debate featured only Republican candidate Ronald Reagan and independent candidate John Anderson. Bond predicted that the 1980 election, which saw Clark running for president and 600 candidates running for seats in Congress and state legislatures, including, as Bond noted, a number of black and Hispanic candidates, would "likely be the best yet" for the Libertarian party.

Bond wrote that while "Libertarian proposals aren't everyone's idea of what government should be doing—or, as Clark would put it, of what government shouldn't be doing," the Libertarian presidential candidate was "at least offering American voters a real choice on the issues" and deserved to be heard. He was right about the 1980 election. Clark and running mate David Koch received more than 900,000 votes, 1.06 percent of the total, still the highest percentage any Libertarian presidential candidate has ever received.  

Nick Gillespie interviewed Julian Bond, among other participants of the "One Nation" rally held in Washington, D.C., for Reason TV in 2010: 

Bonus: Julian Bond with Tom Waits on Saturday Night Live in 1977