Julian Bond, a civil rights leader, history professor and former national NAACP chairman, will retire from the University of Virginia on May 1 after a distinguished 20-year career at the University.
In his honor, the University plans to establish the Julian Bond Professorship in Civil Rights and Social Justice, a permanent position within the College of Arts & Sciences that will continue Bond's scholarly legacy.
To help fund the professorship, a group of alumni and friends have organized the Julian Bond Celebration Gala, to be held May 2 at the Plaza Hotel Ballroom in New York. The event features Distinguished Co-chairs Harry Belafonte and Dave Matthews, and will be emceed by comedians Wanda Sykes and Chris Tucker.
"The outpouring of support for the gala is a testament to Bond's important contributions to our society, and the event is designed to celebrate his legacy and help raise some of the funds necessary to endow the professorship," said Daisy Lovelace, director of development and programming in U.Va.'s Office for Diversity and Equity.
"U.Va. graduates take on influential roles in society so it's important that they have a strong academic understanding of, and appreciation for, the history of the American Civil Rights Movement," said Lovelace, who is coordinating the Bond Chair fundraising for the University. "Bond and his colleagues changed the nation, and subsequently the world, when they were in their early 20s. We can all learn from their example."
Alumna Kathy Thornton-Bias, who is co-chair of the event with U.Va. parent Thaderine D. MacFarlane, called Bond "a national treasure."
"In an era when the rights of citizens are still questioned, the legacy of Professor Bond is a beacon that shines hope for all those who are treated unjustly," Thornton-Bias said. "Endowing a chair in his honor will enable students for years to come to have the ability to study civil and human rights."
Bond has taught more than 5,000 students since joining the Corcoran Department of History in 1992, drawing on his first-hand knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement and its participants to teach civil rights in the larger context of American history. He also narrated the popular "Eyes on the Prize" PBS documentary and has led an annual "Civil Rights South Tour," a six-day, University-sponsored trip to landmark sites. Bond also co-directs the Explorations in Black Leadership oral history project.
"Though this was not my idea, I'm very happy and flattered by it," Bond said of the professorship. "It isn't something that I sought, but having had it come my way, I'm as happy as I can be."
In addition to his other contributions to the University, Bond has participated in a series of dinners for faculty and staff organized by the Office of the Vice President and Chief Officer for Diversity and Equity. The dinners, hosted by volunteer area residents, are designed to bring together people from different parts of the University community who might not otherwise socialize.
"I grew up on college campuses, and it seemed that there wasn't really a place where faculty members would mingle every day," Bond said at a recent dinner. "Someone from the Engineering School might never meet someone from the French Department. Now we've had nearly 60 of these dinners, and I'm told there have been numerous collaborations that have come of them."
Meredith Jung-En Woo, dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, praised Bond's contributions to the University and to society.
"As a politician, scholar, teacher, writer and civil rights leader, Julian has been driving social change for more than 50 years," Woo said. "He has devoted his life to helping people understand themselves and each other. It's a great privilege for the College to be able to establish an endowed professorship in his name to continue his important work at the University and to honor his remarkable record of service and leadership."
The May 2 gala will feature special performances and tribute speakers, including Belafonte, Matthews, Chrisette Michele, Kate Clinton, Charlayne Hunter Gault, U.Va. law alumna Tonya Lewis Lee, BeBe Winans, Robin Roberts and others.
Former President Bill Clinton is the event's honorary chair, and comedian Stephen Colbert will be featured in a video tribute to be shown during the event. Rita Dove, the Commonwealth Professor of Poetry in the English department, will read during the gala.
Lovelace praised MacFarlane and Thornton-Bias for their leadership and commitment to the project, noting that the gala is different from the usual ways in which endowed professorships are funded.
"This is truly a broad-reaching initiative," she said. "There are people involved who have no connection to U.Va., but are committed to the ideals that Julian Bond represents, and to the importance of ensuring that the history of the American Civil Rights Movement is taught in perpetuity at U.Va."
In addition to the gala, there will be an online auction through Charity Buzz with proceeds going to the professorship. Former professional basketball player Bill Russell and musicians Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder have contributed items, as have professional sports organizations and others.
Sponsorship and ticketing information for the Julian Bond Celebration Gala is available here.
To make an online gift to the Julian Bond Professorship of Civil Rights and
Social Justice, click here.
– by Rob Seal