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Civil Rights leader and activist Julian Bond died after a short illness in Fort Walton Beach, Fl., announced today by the Southern Law Center.

Bond served as the Southern Poverty Legal Center’s president from their founding in 1971 to 1979, and later as a member of its board of directors.

“With Julian’s passing, the country has lost one of its most passionate and eloquent voices for the cause of justice,” the center’s statement read. “He advocated not just for African Americans, but for every group, indeed every person subject to oppression and discrimination, because he recognized the common humanity in us all.”

As a Morehouse College student, Bond helped form the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and as its communications director, he was on the front lines of protests that led to the nation’s landmark civil rights laws in the 1960s.

Bond and SNCC, led by James Forman, Bob Moses, and “DC Mayor for Life” Marion Barry, played pivotal roles in the Freedom Rides, which aimed to desegregate bus systems, and organized mass black voter registration drives in the South.

Julian was a visionary and tireless champion for civil and human rights. Few blacks could pass the rigorous voting rights tests or pay poll taxes. As hundreds of Georgia blacks became eligible to vote because of the efforts of civil rights activists, SNCC workers felt that it was important that black candidates seek elective offices. When they sought a candidate for a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965, the SNCC workers encouraged Bond to run.

When Bond was elected to the Georgia Legislature, at the age of 25, the chamber refused to seat him, citing his support for a group that called U.S. actions in Vietnam “murder.” He took the fight all the way to the Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled in his favor. He spent his two decades in the state’s legislature, “mostly in conspicuous isolation from white colleagues who saw him as an interloper and a rabble-rouser.”

Bond was interested in securing effective civil rights laws, improved welfare legislation, a minimum wage provision, the abolition of the death penalty, increased funding for schools, and anti-poverty and urban renewal programs for the benefit of his constituents. Bond wrote that street protests were moving indoors. He said that it was the time to “translate the politics of marches, demonstrations, and protests” into effective electoral instruments.