THE COOLEST MAN I KNEW

August 25, 2015. I somehow missed the news that Julian Bond had died. On Sunday, August 16th I paid my usual early morning homage to coffee and bagels by consuming both while scanning the Sunday edition of the New York Times. The front page story showed Julian Bond in 1966, the year before I was introduced to him at an occasion arranged for just that introduction. In those days–late 1966 days that is– I was the student writing editor of THE JOURNAL OF PUBLIC LAW, which was the name of Emory Law School’s scholarly biannual publication. THE JOURNAL was edited by students like me and sometimes those same students published brief comments called case notes. But the notes were never published in THE JOURNAL; any such student writing appeared instead in a special section of the Georgia Bar Association’s more frequently published periodical, which was also the sole format for Emory Law School student writing. This odd bifurcation of publication energies left no room for creative law students to publish the enthusiasms of their law studies. I was determined to change that.

I was one of several law school students who dreamed of publishing the scholarly writings of law school students in THE JOURNAL OF PUBLIC LAW. Two of these students, Ben Shapiro and Harry DeLung, Jr., were writing a comment on the illegality of the Georgia Legislature’s decision to deny Julian Bond the seat in the Georgia House to which the largely Black voters of his district had elected him. Julian had been one of the leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). That tiny fellowship of college students was generally regarded as the “radical” civil rights organization of that time. It had grown out of the bus boycott and lunch counter sit-in actions.

Julian Bond’s election to the Georgia House in 1966 had been made possible only by the combined effect of very recent Supreme Court decisions requiring that legislative seats be apportioned on the basis of the “one man/one vote” principle and federal enforcement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The legislature was still largely dominated by the same men who had led the struggle against civil rights. They did not go quietly into the dust bin of history that Jim Crow had created and hatred had enlarged. They used the excuse that Julian had approved of draft dodgers to exclude him from taking his seat. Harry and Ben threw a small reception for Julian Bond and invited me to come. I suspected that the reason for the invitation was because they hoped Julian would have such a strong personal appeal for me that I would get behind their effort to get published. I already was hopeful that their work would be published, and I was willing to help. But they were certainly right if they believed that meeting Julian would add strength to my enthusiasm. Julian was urbane, charming, witty, engaging, and delightful. He was then what he has been ever since—the coolest man I knew.

Julian’s whole adult life was dedicated to doing what he could to help others who did not have his advantages. His Father was a well -known professor and his Mother very distinguished. He could have trained his good looks and brilliant mind to seek personal wealth and prominence. He didn’t. Instead he became the champion of the disenfranchised, the despised, and the destitute. He never forgot the values that he and John Lewis risked their lives to advance. He never stooped to show personal hatred if he ever felt it. Never gave up on peace and brotherhood and what John called ” the beloved community”. He tolerated those who preached doctrines of racial separation, whether Black or White, but he did not join them. Sometimes he saw and heard the sneers of people who believed his nonviolence was weak, and his focus on shared values too moderate. He kept the faith.

 

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