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Civil Rights Icon Julian Bond Dies At 75


And this morning, we are marking the passing of a civil rights icon. Julian Bond died last night in Florida at the age of 75. Bond was one of the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and he went on to lead the NAACP. Julian Bond also served for 20 years in the Georgia state legislature. He was a long-time friend and colleague of Georgia Congressman John Lewis, who joins me now on the phone. Congressman, thanks so much for being with us this morning and my condolences.

JOHN LEWIS: Thank you very much. I'm delighted and pleased to be with you this morning.

MARTIN: Do you happen to remember the first time you met Julian Bond?

LEWIS: I do remember the first time I met Julian Bond. It was in the spring of 1960, when we were organizing the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Julian had been very active in the sit-ins in Atlanta, and I was part of the sit-ins in Nashville. He was tall, lanky, handsome, smart - just brilliant - wonderful scholar, writer. He was very urbane. His father had been president of Lincoln College in Pennsylvania and later president of Fort Valley College in Georgia. But we got along. I come from a rural background, and he comes from a very urban background. He was born and grew up in Nashville, Tenn., and I grew up in rural Alabama.

MARTIN: The two of you were close friends, but also political rivals at one point. He ran against you for a seat in Congress in 1987. You won that election. How did that experience shape him, do you think?

LEWIS: I think the experience of running and facing me in the congressional race made him stronger and probably much better. I know it made me stronger. And our friendship was sort of - a little schismed there for a while. But we became reconciled. And he still became one of my closest and dearest friends, not just in the movement during the early days, but later, after I went to Congress, and he continued to serve as the chair of the board at the NAACP.

MARTIN: What was it about him that made him the kind of leader that - that he was? What drew people to him, do you think?

LEWIS: First of all, Julian Bond was just smart - just smart - brilliant, a wonderful writer, a poet. He could - he had a great sense of humor. He could make you laugh until you would want to cry. But he worked very hard. When we would go out conducting voter registration efforts in the 11 states of the South, from Virginia to Texas, he would tell stories over and over again. He wrote a poem about Ray Charles, talking about how you're - that people would shake their thing because - when they listened to Ray Charles.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

LEWIS: People respected him because of what he stood for. He came out against the war in Vietnam, so - became one of the first leaders to speak up and speak out against the war in Vietnam. And the Georgia legislature challenged his seating, and it went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. But he never gave up, never became bitter or hostile. He kept the faith, and the Supreme Court ordered the state legislature to seat him.

MARTIN: You knew him for so many years in so many different capacities, saw his leadership evolve. What do you think his greatest legacy will be?

LEWIS: Julian must be remembered as one who inspired another generation of young people to stand up, to speak up and speak out. He traveled all over America, speaking on college campuses, but also to large groups of - for peace, for nonviolence and for protecting the environment. One of his latest - probably the last thing that he wrote - it was about including the gay, lesbian, transgender communities as part of the civil rights legislation of 1964. He supported that effort.

MARTIN: Georgia Congressman John Lewis remembering his friend and civil rights leader Julian Bond, who passed away yesterday. Thanks so much, Congressman.

LEWIS: Why, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.