Julian Bond, Civil Rights Leader and ‘Saturday Night Live’ Host, Dies at 75

He also narrated the ‘Eyes on the Prize’ documentary and anchored ‘America’s Black Forum.'

Julian Bond, a leader in the civil rights movement for more than 50 years, died Saturday at his vacation home in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., after a brief illness, his family announced. He was 75.

Bond was one of the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which was one of the most important civil rights organizations in the South during the 1960s, often pushing for change much faster than Martin Luther King, Jr. was comfortable with (some sense of the SNCC-King dynamic can be seen in the 2014 film Selma). He also narrated numerous documentaries (including Eyes on the Prize), appeared in the 1977 Richard Pryor film Greased Lighting and hosted Saturday Night Live in its second season.

Bond got involved in the civil rights movement while a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta (where he took a class with  King) when he got involved in the sit-ins that swept the South in the spring of 1960. The sit-ins revived a civil rights movement that had lost momentum after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 and the King-led Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56.

Bond was SNCC’s Communications Director from 1961-66, and he played a crucial role in helping sell the movement to the North with his straightforward approach. Newspapermen learned to trust Bond at a time when white southern lawmen and politicians often did not provide accurate information.

In 1965, following he passage of the Voting Rights Act, Bond was one of eight African-Americans elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, but the House voted 184-12 not to seat him because of his opposition to the Vietnam War. Bond sued and in 1966 the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that he had been denied his freedom of speech and ordered the Georgia House to seat him. The case made Bond nationally famous. In 1968, he became the first African-American to be proposed as a major party’s vice presidential nominee at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. He declined, in part because, at 28, he was below the constitutional age of 35 for the office. In the ‘70s and early ‘80s, he was often mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate.

Bond served in the Georgia House until 1975 and then in the Georgia Senate from 1975-87. He ran for Congress in 1987 but lost the democratic nomination in Georgia’s 5th District to his old SNCC friend, John Lewis.

Bond’s fame also brought him attention from Hollywood. He hosted Saturday Night Live in 1977, the show’s second season, and had a small role in Greased Lighting. In 2014, Bond wrote a column for The Hollywood Reporter about how a famous skit he did with Garrett Morris about light-skinned versus dark-skinned African-Americans made him uncomfortable.

He was also in demand as a narrator. He was the voice of the award-winning documentary series about the civil rights movement, Eyes on the Prize, and anchored the syndicated news program America’s Black Forum from 1980-97.

In 1998, he was elected chairman of the NAACP, a position he held until 2010. During his tenure he helped streamline the organization’s bureaucracy, steady its finances and bring it back to national prominence.

Bond was born on Jan. 14, 1940, in Nashville. His father, Horace Mann Bond, taught at Fisk University and went on to become the president of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Julian graduated from the George School and Morehouse University.

Bond is survived by his wife, Pamela Horowitz, his brother, James Bond; and his sister, Jane Bond Moore, and his five children by his first wife Alice Bond: Phyllis Jane Bond-McMillan, Horace Mann Bond II, Michael Julian Bond, Jeffrey Alvin Bond and Julia Louise Bond.