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  • Interview with Julian Bond
  • Elizabeth Gritter (bio)

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"I was probably four or five. I remember walking through the white section of the Nashville train station with my mother. A policeman came up to my mother and said, 'Niggers aren't allowed here.'" NAACP chairman Julian Bond's pursuit of social justice continues to this day.

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Julian Bond has been on the cutting edge of social change since his days as a leader in the Atlanta sit-in movement in 1960. I had the opportunity to interview Bond in the fall of 1999 while I was an undergraduate at American University in Washington, D.C. I had become acquainted with him through taking his course on the politics of civil rights the previous fall. Dignified, cool, and intellectual, he was an excellent lecturer and became a marvelous mentor. This interview traces the arc of his life as an activist, from his childhood experiences with racism and exposure to civil rights, to his tenure at the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), to his election to the Georgia legislature, and, finally, to his protests against apartheid in South Africa. Today, Bond's pursuit of social justice continues. Since 1998 he has served as chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He is also distinguished professor in residence at American University and a professor of history at the University of Virginia.

Elizabeth Gritter: When was your first moment of racial consciousness?

Julian Bond: I don't know if this is the first moment of racial consciousness, but I remember this moment. I was probably four or five. I remember walking through the white section of the Nashville train station with my mother. A policeman came up to my mother and said, "Niggers aren't allowed here." She said, "Are you calling me a nigger?" I don't know if it was because she was very fair skinned and might have been white, although she didn't appear white to me, or if it was her manner with the policeman. He was just taken aback. He didn't say anything else, and we just kept on going. Before then, I thought I was just a boy. But after that, I knew that I belonged to this category and there was something connected with it.

EG: How did the fact that your father was a prominent educator affect your childhood?

JB: What it meant was that in this small world of the college campus, my father was the most important person. [Bond's father, Horace Mann Bond, was president of Lincoln University in rural southeastern Pennsylvania.] I didn't get the sense that I was therefore important, but I knew he was important. I knew other people deferred to him in this little world—a campus not much bigger than American University's campus. But it also meant that I had this world as my playground. Lincoln University was a men's college when I was there. It's coed now. I had the run of the gym. I had the run of the dormitories in the summertime when the students were gone. I was in and out of the rooms. I could play with the stuff they left behind when they went away for the summer. There was a barbershop on the campus where I got my hair cut. I was growing up in this self-contained world where you were protected from all of the outside world. It was as if you lived only at American University and never went to the rest of Washington, D.C. It's a closed world and a very pleasant world, because everybody's nice, everybody's friendly. I had a very small circle of playmates. There were kids in the village nearby. I went to school with them, but they were too far away to be playmates. Not very many children lived on campus, probably just enough to field one [End Page 77] baseball team. But I had, I think, a normal childhood. I played games. I played cowboys. I played in the snow. I did all those things.



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