Social activist and civil rights leader Julian Bond became the latest speaker at the Zócalo Public Square lecture series held in the Petersen Automotive Museum this past Monday.

Displaying the charisma and easy intellect that served him well as a public servant to an overflow audience, including moderator Warren Olney of public radio station KCRW, he reflected on the highlights of his career, from his role as a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960 and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in 1971. Between heading those two organizations, he was part of the inner circle of the movement to end segregation throughout the South.

As a result of this activity and his well publicized opposition to the Vietnam War, he and other civil rights colleagues were the subject of scrutiny by law enforcement from the stereotypical redneck sheriffs in Dixie backwater communities to the federal minions of FBI honcho J. Edgar Hoover. Reflecting on the fear that was a byproduct of those volatile times, Bond ruefully noted “we were always right on the edge of paranoia, but even paranoids have enemies.”

After election to the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate, followed by a stretch teaching at universities like Harvard and University of Virginia, Bond was compelled to link up with the most prominent civil rights organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1998. The dissolution of once-thriving groups like SNCC, along with financial and internal strife within the NAACP prompted this move, and after assuming the role of chairman, he helped the venerable institution become financially solvent, increase its membership, and he exerted a strong political presence, demonstrated by a dramatic increase in Black voter turnout as the millennium approached.

Bond continued as chairman through the association’s 100th anniversary in 2009, while exhorting it to champion the rights of other disenfranchised groups (his appearance at Zócalo coincides with the NAACP’s 102nd convention being held at the Los Angeles Convention Center). He has become a vocal supporter of gay and lesbian civil rights, along with same-sex marriage (infamously boycotting the funeral of Coretta Scott King, because it was held in a church notoriously opposed to gay rights).

He suggested that the root of Black cultural hostility toward homosexuality might be rooted in the conservative Christian dogma that serves as the bedrock of many African American communities, but suggests that antipathy toward gay issues is changing.

Bond summed up the NAACP’s accomplishments by stating that it enabled the election of Barack Obama to the presidency. The fear and suspicion that are a byproduct of his civil rights experiences precluded his personal commitment to the Obama campaign, since he reasoned his would be a wasted vote for a candidate who couldn’t possibly win, but the pivotal victory in the Iowa primary proved to be his own private mid-life epiphany.

Even so, he did not anticipate the intensity of the racism coming from factions within the Republican Party, and Bond believes it will continue to cast a shadow over the rest of Obama’s tenure, regardless of his re-election or limitation to just one term.

“I think he faces an unusual amount of hostility from the other party,” he declared. “Is it because he’s from Chicago? Is it because he’s tall and thin? No, it’s because he’s Black.”