Georgia Legislature refuses to seat Julian Bond
When SNCC issued its statement opposing the Vietnam War, members of the Georgia State Legislature pressed newly-elected Julian Bond to disassociate himself from SNCC. Bond refused, and they voted to bar him from being seated.
The refusal of the Georgia Legislature to seat Julian Bond sent shockwaves through state and national politics. “In light of this grave injustice,” Martin Luther King, Jr. told The Chicago Defender, “the Negro community and the white persons of good will have no alternative but to engage in creative protests.” Some civil rights activists saw little point in continuing civil rights work in the Deep South if a Black elected official like Bond could be denied the right to take his position so easily.
Bill Ware, who had been a volunteer in Mississippi during the 1964 Freedom Summer, decided to form an ad hoc Special Committee to Reelect Julian Bond, which eventually grew into SNCC’s Atlanta Project. The committee received money from SNCC to canvas Bond’s district to build support for his second campaign. Their actions were instrumental in Bond’s re-election when he ran again in February.
Despite winning the special election, the Georgia Legislature once again voted to bar Bond from taking his seat. The ACLU, which had promised to take his case, declined, and Bond was represented by Leonard Boudin and Victor Rabinowitz. The case, Bond v. Floyd, made it to the Supreme Court, and the court declared that the state could not apply “loyalty tests” to legislators or undermine their First Amendment protections. Bond knew the case was going well when, after the Georgia Attorney General finished his argument one of the judges, Justice Byron White asked him, “Is that all you have? You come all this way and that’s all you have.” In a unanimous decision, the three judges ordered the Georgia House of Representatives to seat Julian Bond.
The resistance to seating Bond helped galvanize support for SNCC for a time and helped root the Atlanta Project in some of that city’s poorest communities. Bond resigned from SNCC in 1966 and went on to spend two decades as a Georgia state representative and later a state senator before retiring to lead the NAACP in 1987.
Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981).
James Forman, Sammy Younge, Jr.: The First Black College Student to Die in the Black Liberation Movement (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1968).
John Neary, Julian Bond: Black Rebel (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1971).
Stephen G. N. Tuck, Beyond Atlanta: The Struggle for Racial Equality in Georgia, 1940-1980 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001).
Interview with Julian Bond by Elizabeth Gritter, November 1 and 22, 1999, Southern Oral History Program, University of North Carolina.