ATLANTA — Atlanta Councilman Michael Julian Bond had one of the closest relationship to the late Rep. John Lewis, one of the most unique views into not just the Civil Rights titan - but the man himself.
His father, Julian Bond - himself a pillar of the Civil Rights Movement - was long Lewis' best friend. And then, in hotly contested 1986 congressional race for the Fifth District seat, his political rival.
Councilman Bond spoke to 11Alive Anchor Jeff Hullinger on Wednesday, as Lewis will be remembered at the Georgia Capitol Building where he will lie in state until later in the evening.
The councilman shared his memories of Lewis as his godfather, how the '86 race changed his father and Lewis' relationship, and how it eventually was repaired.
On the '86 race, which featured a surprising amount of political hostility between two close friends who shared just about everything ideologically
- I think it's important for historians and even current day folks to realize that there's a pre-history there, other than just that race. I mean these were two men who were the best of friends - were best friends. John Lewis and his wife (Lillian) are my godparents, we essentially did everything together leading up to that race. And then people forget that that wasn’t John's first attempt at going to Congress. He had run unsuccessfully against (Wyche) Fowler when he was presumed to be the winner, and people forget that my father was his campaign manager. So this is a very tragic story in some ways, but it's a great story in other ways - how these two men, who politically were identical, that had the same dreams, that had the same goals and had a deep friendship for one another, essentially had those dreams kind of clash in 1986.
On the contrast in styles between his father and Lewis and their backgrounds
- Well, yeah, they were very different, they did come from disparate backgrounds. John came from, you know, a farming community down in Alabama. My father was raised on college campuses the majority of his life, but they did have so much in common with what they believed in. They met in February of 1960 after the formation conference of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and they had been friends - almost inseparable, intellectually and as friends, from that point on until the '86 campaign. So they were a good compliment to one another. They traveled the South, registering people to vote, they had found in each other despite their obvious differences a kindred spirit and friendship. And I'm pleased by the end of my father’s life that they had reconciled and become friends again.
On how the two men reconciled years after the '86 race
- As you look at the '86 campaign and you look at their lives in general, they had all of the same friends, they shared the same nucleus of people, and so had my father stayed in Atlanta after the campaign they probably would have crossed paths a lot sooner. But they eventually did thaw their grievances and bury them, because they were surrounded by the same loved ones, the same hangout buddies, the same SNCC friends and civil rights compatriots, so they did meld and fix their relationship, and they began to help and work together again. My father was often at the capital (Washington, D.C.) when John would call him over to meet constituents, to meet different groups, to speak to those groups. My father did a Civil Rights tour throughout the South every year through the University of Virginia and John was a part of that. John would speak to the group at Paschal's (restaurant) here in Atlanta, and at some other points along the tour, so they collaborated, they socialized some. But to say that it was exactly how it had been - probably not - but they were inching towards that as time was going on.
On the loss of John Lewis and other recent losses of Civil Rights icons, Rev. Joseph Lowery and Rev. C.T. Vivian.
- I mean John's story really is an authentic American story when you look at it. Here is someone who comes from humble beginnings, that achieves and excels to the point where he is an influencer of policy that affects the entire nation. Not technically rags to riches, because there's not any money involved, but it’s the same theory. Here you have someone who believes in himself, believes in something greater, believes that America can be greater and is rewarded for it through his service. John just had a tremendous heart. He held steadfastly to what he believed in and he looked out for the least of these throughout his entire life, and career, to make sure that America was going to keep its promise to all of its citizens. And John, as has been remarked in different circles, he became not only the conscience of the Congress, but the conscience of America. So here in Atlanta we're at such a tremendous loss, we've lost so many folks just this year with Rev. Lowery and C.T. Vivian, all three of these great trees have fallen in our forest - who's going to provide the shade and the comfort and the security that they provided for us? Who is going to take up that mantle? And those of us who care about freedom, who care about our fellow man, we have to step up. And you have to remember you don’t have to be elected, you don’t have to be anybody fancy or well-educated, you just have to have the heart for service, the fire in the belly to want to make things right. And that’s where all these folks in SNCC came from, they were students, they came from all across the country... ordinary people who decided they were going to make a difference. And John is probably the best example of that.
On a childhood memory of John Lewis taking him and his brother to a Braves game
- The best story I have is when John took myself and my little brother to an Atlanta Braves baseball game - probably I think this was in '74, I was about 8 years old. John was such a great godfather, we just knew we were going to get spoiled. We were going to get to drink all the big drinks our parents wouldn’t let us have, the hot dogs, the cotton candy, and get to rip and run and play in the stadium. John didn’t really drive anywhere because he had headaches from when he was beaten (on Bloody Sunday), so dad drove him around a lot. We went to pick John up and go to the stadium and John showed up with a Rich’s shopping bag - for those who have been in Atlanta a long time, they know what I'm talking about. The white paper bag that had "Rich's" across the bottom. We asked John, 'Why are you bringing a shopping bag to the Braves game?' At that time Atlanta Fulton County Stadium allowed people to bring food in, and John had made all these hot dogs, wrapped them in foil and he brought his own Cokes, brought his own drinks and he bought some potato chips and stuff, and we were like, 'No, no! We wanna get cotton candy!' And so we were kind of crestfallen that John had made all these preparations, but once we got inside - dad dropped us off, and of course John had on a suit out there in the 85-degree weather at that old Fulton County Stadium - we just had a blast. We ate those hot dogs, we drank the drinks, basically he kind of let us run around because back in those days weren’t really sellouts at Fulton County stadium for the Braves. We just had the best time, and he made those hot dogs with care and they tasted like it... That was probably the best time I ever had a baseball game.
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