The first time I saw Julian it was 1963 and I'd just gotten to SNCC's National Office in Atlanta: There he was: typing with staccato speed, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and dropping ashes onto a perpetually dirty floor.
Julian could type faster with 2 fingers than I could with all 10... whether he was typing press releases — to tell the media about the beatings and murders of movement workers as they tried to register Black people to vote —
... Or when he was working, with other SNCC folks, to craft speeches:
... like SNCC's 1963 March on Washington (MoW) speech, written by Julian and John Lewis and some of the SNCC folks who are here today. SNCC's March on Washtington speech echoed Julian's — and SNCC's — beliefs:
"We need a [Civil Rights Bill] that will ensure the equality of a maid earning $5.00 a week in the home of a family whose income is $100,000 a year... [it continued] American politics is dominated by politicians who build their career on immoral compromises and ally themselves with open forms of political, economic and social exploitation."
That's SNCC — and Julian — in 1963.
Where Julian went, the politics of SNCC went.
So, 2nd image: his successful, 1st run for the Georgia House of Representatives. It was run like a SNCC grass-roots organizing campaign. The campaign managers were SNCC's Ivanhoe Donaldson and Charlie Cobb. I was the office manager ... and the only office staffer.
My enduring image of that campaign was of driving Julian to a Sunday meeting of the Red Rosebud Savings Club, out Gordon Road in Atlanta. When Julian entered that small apartment, the faces of the 8-10 elderly, low-income, black ladies, registered such pride — at his intelligence and his demeanor.
But it was when he began talking that they understood he was not your typical politician. Because Julian didn't just tell them about his platform — he asked what they wanted in that platform: this was a SNCC campaign. And so the women talked about the things — big and small — that they wanted for themselves and for their families. And Julian listened.
And when Julian was initially denied his seat because he supported SNCC's anti-Vietnam War statement, he showed the kind of principled stand that he never, ever gave up — for anything or anyone.
3rd and last Image: his work as narrator on EYES ON THE PRIZE. I was on the production staff for that 14-hour series, and Julian's mellifluous voice carries the narration of the films to another level. There are many stories from Eyes — many of them funny (he had a wicked sense of humor). This is just one of them:
It's 1985 or '86 and he and I are sitting in a production screening of an early cut of the "Selma" segment of Eyes on the Prize. Now Blackside, the Boston-based production company that produced that series, had no money. So the production screenings of early cuts had to be held at a community screening facility.
The old projector (we shot on film) suddenly broke down. So, Callie Crossley, producer of that segment (with Jim DeVinney), runs to me with panic on her face and says, "Sing a freedom song". Now, I don't sing. And I'm not even talking, I don't sing like Rutha [Harris] or Bernice [Reagon] ... I mean, I don't sing.
But I go over to Julian and I say, "We need to sing a Freedom Song". Of course, as many of you know, Julian didn't sing either. But he didn't care — he wasn't proud and he loved music: particularly Freedom Songs ... and Ray Charles ... and Motown. So sing we did ... and with great energy — "This Little Light of Mine", "Ain't gonna let no projector turn me 'round ..."
And all the production staff — who by that time knew all the songs, since they'd been living this material for months — as well as the various scholar advisors in the rroom (and scholars can be a little stiff) — all joined in ... much to their own surprise. We brought the Movement into that space — through the power of the songs. Then the projector was fixed and we continued the screening... but a different kind of spirit was now in that room.
To end: We in SNCC bonded — as 18, 19, 20-years olds often do — EXCEPT that our bond was forged in struggle ... and was stronger because racists, at every level, were trying to kill us.
We really were a band of brothers and sisters and a circle of trust ... and that bond exists even today.
Julian reflected on that lasting bond last year, during the 50th Anniversary conference for Mississippi Freedom Summer in Jackson, MS. He told radio interviewer Eric Mann what we, his SNCC comrades, meant to him: "To see old friends, to see old buddies, to see these people with whom I went through the most important years of my life — just means so much to me. I am so happy to be here, I don't want it to end. I'm going to miss it ... and I know that some of these people I'll never see again."
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Copyright © Judy Richardson
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