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Civil rights leader Julian Bond touched local lives

ST. PETERSBURG — Julian Bond was a historic figure in the civil rights movement, but for some local residents, he was more than a distant hero.

Bond, who died Saturday in Fort Walton Beach, helped start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, spoke against the Vietnam War and was elected to the Georgia Legislature. In later years, he became an NAACP chairman.

Renowned as one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s young disciples, he would go on to become an elder statesman in the fight for social and racial justice and a respected academic.

State Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, met him in the 1970s. Bond was in St. Petersburg to meet with his friend James B. Sanderlin, another civil rights stalwart and the first black judge on Pinellas County and circuit courts.

"I remember being in awe at the meeting, because of who Julian was," Rouson said. "I was very impressed with how down to earth he was, how passionate he was about registering people to vote. We were coming off the 1968 sanitation strike."

Rouson, 60, a former president of the St. Petersburg NAACP branch, met Bond again when the civil rights leader was chairman of the national organization.

"He was a great man. He spoke his truth to whomever. He cared about the disenfranchised. He cared about poor people. He cared about the rights of men and women," Rouson said. "I always thought he was eloquent and articulate in his expressions of the day's issues."

Horace Julian Bond was born Jan. 14, 1940, in Nashville. He was a founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He was elected to the Georgia House in 1965, but lawmakers refused to let him take his seat because of his stance on Vietnam. The fight went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor. He eventually took office in 1967.

"He was one of the early sacrificial lambs of racism in politics when he was elected to the Georgia state legislature and the whites and racists who were members of the legislature refused to seat him," said Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich, 82, who served as co-chair of Mayor Rick Kriseman's transition team.

"I remember his eloquence when he spoke of his determination to take his seat. He was a moderate-toned speaker who spoke with vehemence and great power, so he was fascinating to watch," said Scruggs-Leftwich, whose brother was Bond's classmate at Morehouse College.

The former University of Pennsylvania and Howard University professor was one of the people Bond interviewed in 2003 for a project about black leaders. They last spoke by phone about a year after the interview for Explorations in Black Leadership at the University of Virginia, where Bond was a professor of history.

Raymond Arsenault, 67, the John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History and chairman of the Department of History and Politics at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, was "shocked and saddened" by Bond's death.

"I haven't seen Julian in a year or so," he said, adding that he first met him in 1986, after Bond had done the narration for the Eyes on the Prize, the PBS series about the civil rights movement.

Bond had been invited to St. Petersburg by a group called Amity House, but Arsenault said he didn't really get to know him until 2007, when they were both invited to speak at the annual meeting of the National Council on Public History in Santa Fe, N.M.

"Julian had been teaching and splitting his time between the University of Virginia and American University," Arsenault said. "He was one of my heroes. He had such a presence about him and longevity in the movement. … It was just remarkable to be on that panel with him.

"We went around Santa Fe, to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum and ate at the Georgia O'Keeffe café. It was just over two or three days. We went out to the Bandelier National Monument, and we spent all afternoon out there. I will always treasure that afternoon."

The two met again in January 2013, on the eve of President Barack Obama's second inauguration, at the Peace Ball. Bond invited Arsenault and his wife, Kathy, to join him in the VIP area.

"It was just amazing. We got to spend the whole evening with people like Ralph Nader, Ben Jealous (the then) NAACP president and Melissa Harris-Perry, lots of interesting people. It was so kind of him to do that. It was such a thrilling two to three hours," he said.

"That was the last time I saw him."

Winnie Foster, 88, director of the Sojourner Truth Center and a longtime community activist, met Bond in the 1960s. She had offered to host him at her Providence, R.I., home, but he ended up staying with a college friend.

"I was so honored and excited that I even got to meet him," she said.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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