Julian Bond has begun to think of his political life in show business terms. “I have a two-year contract with my constituents,” he says of his term in the Georgia state senate, “with an option to renew. Beyond that I have no plans.”
The language is no accident. In the past year, the clean, lean Bond has plunged into the world of entertainment twice. Last summer he played a lawyer in Greased Lightning, a film about a black stock car racer, and was paid $25,000. Earlier this month, he appeared as the slyboots guest star of NBC’s Saturday Night (fee: $3,000). Still, Bond insists he is not angling for a showbiz career.
“I can’t sing or dance,” he acknowledges. “If I had other talents then I might consider acting. But it’s not even worth thinking about.”
What the 37-year-old Bond intends to do with the rest of his life puzzles many of his admirers. Once a national political figure with a small but passionate following, Bond was nominated for Vice-President at the 1968 Democratic convention. He had to decline because at 28 he was seven years below the legal age for holding the office. Last year, during the Carter primary campaign, Bond managed to talk himself into national Democratic limbo by calling the candidate a liar and “a dragon.” In the end Bond reluctantly backed Carter. “He was better than Ford,” is the terse explanation. To those who believe Julian may have written his own political death warrant, he declares, “I don’t think Carter wakes up every morning and says, ‘How can I get Julian Bond?’ I would hope he has better things to do.”
Ironically, Bond’s close friend U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young is the most powerful black in the country right now. Yet Julian stoutly maintains his life is in fine shape. The onetime civil rights militant—tie helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee—now spends 45 days in the Georgia Senate and 100 on the lecture circuit (his minimum fee is $1,000). “I’m like a teacher,” says Bond, whose hair now has traces of gray. “More than a decade has passed since the civil rights movement. Many college students have no knowledge of that time. But those days were the high point in our lives. We all know that for intensity, meaning and satisfaction there will never again be an equal for any of us.”
Bond says that if he ever leaves politics, he might like to run a TV program like Meet the Press. He hoped for a syndicated column with the Los Angeles Times, but civil rights activist Jesse Jackson got it instead. Bond also sought the post of NAACP chief, but it went to Benjamin Lawson Hooks, formerly of the FCC. “That is the best position for a black in the nation,” the envious Bond says.
Seldom a sponsor of bills in Atlanta, Bond is more interested in organizing the black community for better housing and jobs: “The real power is to make people say yes to you when they want to say no. That remains the monumental challenge to black people regardless of who the President is.”
Julian lives in a black neighborhood with his wife of 16 years, Alice, and their five children. Julia Louise, 7, Jeffrey Alvin, 9, and Michael Julian, 11, all go to public school; Horace Mann, 13, and Phyllis Jane, 14, attend a private progressive school. The Bonds’s 11-room house is just down the street from Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, Coretta. (“I can’t cut the grass in my undershirt because of the tour buses,” Julian complains.) In his infrequent moments of leisure, he listens to jazz and reads Rex Stout mysteries. “I’m interested in a lot of things,” he says. “Writing poetry, politics. I don’t think I want to be a candidate for office all my life. It’s too wearying.”
And Bond returns once again to the thought of a movie career. “If I did have a choice of roles,” he says, “I would want to play Frederick Douglass.”