Over the weekend, we lost Julian Bond at age 75. He was a former chairman of the NAACP, elected many times over to the Georgia legislature, and a founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He was an icon of the civil rights movement.
I only realized after he died that he was an atheist, too:
Host Douglas Blackmon: You’re not a believer, are you?
Blackmon: Yeah, I thought that was the case. And so…
Bond: Is that my reputation? [Laughs]
Blackmon: You’ve said it to me before, or at least in my presence. So you’re not a believe, but that’s not to say you don’t believe in the power of the church, in it’s own way, in the community…
Bond: … in the aftermath of the celebration of the ’64 Civil Rights Act, a book was published, whose name I can’t remember, that gave enormous credit to the mainstream Christian church for helping pass this legislation, and the author argued that this phenomenon doesn’t exist today, and I think he’s right. The mainstream churches seem to be absent without leave today, in these ways, and while it’s good to hear about the phenomenon you described with these conservative churches, good for them, but what happened to the mainstream churches? Where are they? Why don’t we hear their voices?
There are a lot of great articles that attest to Bond’s legacy; I hope you read them. But in everything I’ve seen about his life over the past few days, his religious beliefs never really came up. That’s unfortunate. It’s also not as much of a surprise as you might imagine, given the long history of great African-American leaders who were also non-believers.