As I can recall, my friendship with Julian Bond began on a fall day in 1960 after a student meeting in the “Upper Room” of Rev. Boon’s small church on Chestnut Street, near Atlanta University. Julian was a co-founder of the Committee On Appeal For Human Rights, the student movement of the Atlanta University Center — which included Spelman College, Morehouse, Clark, Atlanta University, Morris Brown and the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC).
What loomed out of Fisk University soon spread to black colleges and universities throughout the south and the Atlanta movement also morphed into the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Atlanta became the official national base for SNCC because of organization and massive black student protests, marches and sit-ins.
Julian eventually became the National Director of Communication for SNCC. He had to leave the Atlanta Inquirer, the only civil rights newspaper then in Georgia, where he had served as managing editor. Julian also left Morehouse College to work fulltime with SNCC. Charles Black, another movement stalwart and Morehouse man became managing editor of the Inquirer.
At our first meeting, Julian was intrigued with the fact of my being a student from New York, from Harlem, and having an interest in the southern student movement. Typically, most black students from north of the “Mason Dixie Line” did not venture too far from campus and saw southern issues as none of their business. At the same time, however, they were keenly aware of the politics.
We ended up at Paschal’s restaurant on West Hunter Street where we sipped coffee and talked for a long time as others came and went. I learned that Julian was a staunch integrationist and he learned that my focus was imbedded in Pan-Africanism. Julian was glad that I knew he had been exposed to several of Africa’s then emerging leaders at Lincoln University where his famously intellectual father, Horace Mann Bond, resided as President.
No, Julian didn’t boast about his father, his family or anything. He was just cool, always reserved. Whenever we saw each other, either after a student movement meeting or at Paschal’s, Julian would be very interested in what I was reading, since a book was invariably in my hand – a New York habit. (If you’ve got a half-hour subway ride you could knock out a chapter or part of one and also during lunchtime on your job or just hanging out).
Julian was interested in just about everything. He married young and had a daughter – his first child. I’d check on him at home. Julian is holding his daughter in one hand and reading a book. There’s minimum furniture and plenty of books, at least three or four open and others with slips of paper jutting out. He’s talking and hands me his daughter (he knows that I am also a husband and father) while he searches for a passage he wants me to read in a book I never heard of.
Julian Bond was a voracious reader. I never knew a time that he was not reading at least three books. He was already intensely interested in American and European political, social and religious history, but he also loved Langston Hughes and other poets. And when you heard him speak, just regular conversation, that’s exactly how he wrote. The brother was brilliant.
Jesse Hill, the shaker and mover from black owned Atlanta Life Insurance Company and a host of other black leaders including Dr. M. Carl Holman, my literature professor at Clark College, Clarence Coleman, President of the Atlanta Urban League, Dr. Martin L. King Jr., and others created the Atlanta Inquirer. Jesse Hill served as Chairman and Publisher. Journalism was Julian’s first love and Jesse Hill knew it.
Under Julian and Jesse’s steady hands, the newspaper thrived. When Julian left it didn’t miss a beat. Julian was always close by and Charles Black was up to the challenge. Jesse brought seminary student Al Sampson on and then me. SNCC, under Julian’s influence, created a newsletter called The Student Voice.
And we all contributed along with Alton Pertilla and others. We mostly did not use bylines. Julian always quietly suggested topics and issues. The newsletter spread across America through Julian’s communications office.
Over the years when we have run into each other it was always low key, as though we just saw each other yesterday. We’d find some time together. Julian was my friend of 55 years. Last Saturday at exactly 3: p.m. EDT, Frank Peterman, a Morehouse man, and I stood at the stern of his and his wife Audrey’s forty foot sailboat and threw sunflower petals in Fort Lauderdale’s New River for Horace Julian Bond.
At the same time, his family, as per his direction was strewing Julian’s ashes in the Gulf of Mexico.
Al Calloway is a longtime journalist who began his career with the Atlanta Inquirer during the early 1960s civil rights struggle. He may be reached at Al_Calloway@verizon.net