Julian Bond, a civil rights activist who deftly crossed over into popular culture, died Saturday night, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. He was 75.
The Nashville, Tennessee, native was considered a symbol and icon of the 1960s civil rights movement. As a Morehouse College student, Bond helped found the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), whose work with Dr. Martin Luther King was portrayed in the film Selma.
Bond later served as board chairman of the 500,000-member NAACP for 10 years, was elected to the Georgia state legislature and was a professor at American University and the University of Virginia.
He also hosted Saturday Night Live in its second season in 1977, played himself in the Jamie Foxx film Ray, had a small role in Greased Lighting alongside Richard Pryor, and narrated the award-winning civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize. In recent years he had been a vocal advocate for marriage equality and embraced social media, frequently posting support on Twitter for younger activists, including #BlackLivesMatter protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and other cities.
In a statement, President Obama said he and his wife Michelle have "benefited from his example, his counsel, and his friendship.”
Even legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson commemorated Bond’s influence in his own way:
Bond recently returned to the news upon release of the movie Selma, about the historic voting rights march in Alabama. He organized protests in Selma at the time, and was asked recently about the relationship between Dr. Martin Luther King and President Lyndon Johnson, which was portrayed as slightly adversarial in the film.
Bond, who often worked with King, praised the movie but said he thought LBJ did not deserve to be treated as a villain. "He did support King's fight for voting rights. He probably is the best civil rights president America has ever had. The best. Absolute best," Bond said. "I think the movie people wanted Dr. King to have an antagonist. Why not have it be LBJ?”
His full episode of SNL is available to HuluPlus subscribers. Last year, he wrote a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter about the long-running show’s struggle to cast diverse comedians as regular cast members. "I used to say that I was an SNL host when it was a comedy show, and people would laugh,” he wrote. "More recently, I had taken to saying that I hosted SNL when it had black people on it.”
He also reflected critically on his own appearance:
"Looking back at the episode I hosted, I felt discomfort with a skit we did,” he wrote. "Appearing as myself on a mock television interview show about black issues, I told Garrett Morris, one of SNL's original 'Not Ready for Prime Time Players,' that light-skinned blacks are smarter than dark-skinned blacks. Morris, who is darker skinned than I am, did a perfect double take. I felt squeamish then but did the skit anyway, and I feel uneasy about this joke even today. I believed it treaded dangerously on the fine line between comedy and poor taste.”
In 2006, while still serving as the NAACP chairman, Bond walked that line more astutely when he appeared on The Colbert Report after then-President George W. Bush spoke at the organization’s national convention. His dry wit and easy comedic timing were on display as he reviewed Bush’s poorly received speech and helped Colbert to pick from among a series of photos a “new black friend”:
Bond is survived by his wife, Pamela Horowitz, a former Southern Poverty Law Center staff attorney; his five children, Phyllis Jane Bond-McMillan, Horace Mann Bond II, Michael Julian Bond, Jeffrey Alvin Bond, and Julia Louise Bond; his brother, James Bond; and his sister, Jane Bond Moore.