Fifty-two years ago, student leader Julian Bond was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and leading groundbreaking protests against segregation in public facilities in the South. He never stopped being involved through the decades and in recent years has taught the history of the civil rights movement in universities.
Last week, the veteran activist was honored at a star-studded array of comedians, singers and television personalities at a Plaza Hotel Gala in New York City. The evening was not only a celebration of his legacy; it was also fundraiser for the Julian Bond Professorship of Civil Rights and Social Justice at the University of Virginia.
Comedians Wanda Sykes and Chris Tucker hosted the evening and interspersed introductions with funny lines. Among those paying tribute to Bond was ABC morning host Robin Roberts, "The View"’s Whoopi Goldberg, fellow civil rights leaders Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young, singers Dave Matthews and Chrisette Michele, poet Rita Dove, humorist Kate Clinton, and iconic singer Harry Belafonte.
Speakers at the pre-gala cocktail party were effusive about Bond’s “living legacy.” Roberts complimented his merits as a “teacher in the classroom.” Goldberg described how Bond “is a fabric of American life.” She later publicly declared, “I owe Julian a large debt. When I saw him on the news, he was in the groove.”
Sykes complimented him “on how he still lives by the civil rights” doctrine. Bond thanked the enthusiastic crowd with the observation that the “civil rights movement was ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” Rounding out the evening was gospel singer Bebe Winans who observed privately how Bond “dedicated his life to the cause, and I am singing to say thank you.”
Bond is no stranger to show business, appearing in 14 movies over the course of his career. He will be in the upcoming "The Rosenwald Schools"  (which I am directing) coming out in 2013. Bond was also a youthful host on an early "Saturday Night Live." Stephen Colbert sent a tribute to him for the gala.
Co-chair Thaderine MacFarlane was thrilled to host the evening as she “grew up hearing his name.” Those coming to the gala were equally appreciative. There is poetic justice that this chair and center will concentrate on “the struggle for civil rights and its continuing impact” at a Southern-based university. It’s also encouraging that talent will lend their presence to such a good cause.
Photo credit: Getty Images