It's hot, 100 degrees, and some wonder if it's perhaps the shirt-sticky, brittle dry hell of a dog-eared Dixie summer that has driven gentle men like John Lewis to say not so nice things about old friends like Julian Bond.
Even winos are seeking shade outside Bond's command post, a retread tire mart where the state senator and well-preserved boy wonder of civil rights smiles down from the five-foot-high cover of an old Ebony magazine -- and supporters whisper ugly things about his old friend, John Lewis.
Both are legends from the civil rights struggles of a bygone era. Bond played the brilliant '60s movement thinker, cranking up press alerts for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee when Lewis was SNCC chairman, achieving media stardom when the Georgia House of Representatives refused to seat him for his antiwar views on Vietnam, the only black ever placed in nomination for vice president of the United States.
While Bond hit the front pages, Lewis was bleeding on the front lines, a courageous foot soldier, the Audie Murphy of civil rights. He was jailed more than 40 times, beaten so often he felt like a punching bag. At Selma, he led a march across a bridge, into the swinging clubs of Alabama state troopers and onto the cover of Life. That magazine cover hung life-size, at his headquarters, mere blocks away.
Now, two decades later, these two old friends, both 46, both former devotees of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., are facing off as rivals, running for Congress. It is a battle for the hearts and pocketbooks of 238,000 residents in the newly redrawn 5th District, a race featuring money, good looks, smooth talk, old ghosts, guilt trips and civil rights revisionists in the dawn of the black yuppie.
"It's a dilemma for me," sighs Martin Luther King III, 26. "Here are two fine men, both super, both overqualified for the job. Both worked with my father."
So far, three weeks before the Aug. 12 primary, Bond remains the cucumber-cool front-runner in a 13-candidate field, slick and articulate, pick of four polls testing the sprawling 5th District -- including one by Lewis that put Bond ahead 53 percent to 25 percent.
But observers aren't counting Lewis out yet for the seat that Rep. Wyche Fowler resigned to run for the U.S. Senate (he faces former Jimmy Carter aide Hamilton Jordan in the primary). Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young held it before that. And as state senator, Bond helped redraw it into a 65 percent black district that virtually assures a black successor.
Lewis hopes to close the gap with undecided black voters and draw a large white vote from past support of hot neighborhood issues. He's always drawn better than his polls, pulling 29 percent in a crowded primary against Fowler in 1977, and 40 percent in the runoff despite low name recognition.
But for many, the race is more than mere numbers, pitting brother against brother, becoming, for those who remember the past, a litmus test of conscience in the black community.
"I've heard people say, 'It's a race between Mother Teresa and Bishop Tutu,' " laughs Bond. "I guess I'd be Bishop Tutu."
Bond is looking over his shoulder at Lewis, a man Time magazine dubbed a "living saint," a city councilman with a squeaky "Mr. Clean" reputation for angering fat-cat colleagues as the lone local politician to champion ethics laws.
"He's a friend," says Lewis, "but in the early years, we had to bang on his door to wake him up and pull him out of bed to campaign."
"I don't believe John ever got me out of bed," says Bond, pondering the unusual rivalry and the remembrance of things past. "Maybe it's the weather, or politics, or both -- and the fact that we know things about each other.
"I know things about John and he knows things about me that Ham Jordan and Wyche don't know about each other."
Well, let's have it.
"They're not campaign issues," he shrugs. But there is a nasty undercurrent of whispers. Wives are no longer speaking.
"It's over," says Lillian Lewis of her friendship with Alice Bond, Julian's wife of 25 years and mother of his five children. "It's irretrievably broken."
The cross fire has caught black leaders like Young uncomfortably in the middle, along with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Even Sen. Edward Kennedy, who is backing Bond over the man who was working for his brother Robert the night RFK was shot.
"I asked Andy the other night, 'You're with John, aren't you?' " Lillian Lewis goes on. "He sort of mumbled. So I repeated my question. 'You're with John, aren't you?' He didn't answer. All he said was, 'It's going to be all right.' That hurts."
"What I say on the record is that whoever wins, the district can't lose," hedges Young, whose wife and daughter are stumping for yet another candidate. Top aides have migrated to Bond. "This is what the movement was all about, to be able to choose from the best among us."
It would be "suicide" to choose between the two, says Jesse Jackson. "The relationships run deep" with both men.
Lewis fired off an angry telegram to Kennedy after he declared for Bond. "Sure, it was a tough decision," says Mike Frazier, 29, a Kennedy legislative aide. Bond was the only Georgia delegate for Kennedy in the 1980 primary against Jimmy Carter.
"The senator still likes John," Frazier goes on, "still considers him a friend. But Julian was there when the senator needed him most. We owe Julian Bond. And we pay our debts."
And now, as Bond, natty in a gray suit, hopped out at the Purple Parrot, an in-town yuppie bar, to schmooze key white crossover votes in the majority black district, yet another rival was thrashing him in a radio ad with Bond's own decade-old rhetoric: Blacks should take over the inner cities of America and charge white commuters a toll to get to work.
"So how much you gonna charge us?" teased Jim Garcia, 45, a white real estate developer, as Bond worked the crowd, defending his words as a simple payroll tax on commuters, not a call to arms.
Who was behind this nouveau "race-baiting" in the undisputed capital of the New South? Perhaps some gewgaw Dixiecrat from the suburbs hunting a white bloc vote? An aide broke the news: It was none other than a young black lawyer shamelessly huckstering fear in the New, New, New South on white drive-time radio.
A blond architect, drink in hand, peered at Bond, Ray-Bans dangling about her neck. She wasn't scared. "We're smart white people," she said.
It is a tale of two friends in this curious era, when Cosby rules the ratings, black conservatives rule the roost and so many young black voters with no segregation memories aspire to cruise about in BMWs and grow up to talk, look and act like, say, a Julian Bond, once declared by Cosmo one of America's 10 sexiest men. He may have faded from center stage after nearly a decade, but he's packing them in again.
Indeed, Bond, a Peugeot man who earns more than $150,000 a year lecturing, writing and playing host on a syndicated TV talk show, has made the leap from political respectability to celebrity status. He's hosted "Saturday Night Live," counts Hollywood fans and contributions from Cosby, Mike Nichols, SNL producer Lorne Michaels, Hugh Hefner, Cicely Tyson.
Lewis, built like a fireplug, balding on top, preaches ethics and racial harmony. Everyone knows the trouble he's seen. "I was there," he reminds them. He drives a blue Chevy.
The Temptations played free at Bond's $125-a-head benefit here that raised $90,000, putting his campaign over the $200,000 mark, almost three times Lewis' meager coffers. After two decades campaigning for others, he boasts chits from 65 congressmen, and he aims to collect. "I can hit the ground running," he says. Lewis says, "I'm not interested in representing the so-called beautiful people from Hollywood, New York or Georgetown. I don't believe the Lord brought me this far to leave me."
*"It's a race between two juggernauts," says Michael Lomax, 37, sipping Perrier at the Purple Parrot. As the powerful black chairman of the Fulton County Commission, he juggles his duties with his daughter's ballet recitals and also teaches literature at a black university here.
"I'm supporting them both," he quips, "but all other things being equal, Julian always has better looking women around and gives better parties."
Bond dashed across town the other night for a glitzy fundraiser at the Ritz-Carlton, where he basked amid 500 Women for Bond, sashaying between brie and strawberries. Raves from Brooklyn District Attorney Elizabeth Holtzman were followed by civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks. She'd once stood her ground on a Montgomery bus, but, at first, shied away from making a stand over two bona fide heroes.
"I'd rather they weren't running for the same office," she said.
A radio reporter put her on the spot. "Do you feel Bond would make a better congressman?"
"That's the way I feel," she said in a whisper.
The crowd broke into cheers and applause as Bond launched his rap: "If you want someone . . . who was making the Old South into the new when others thought Peachtree Street was just a prop in 'Gone With the Wind.' . . . who knew 'Georgia on My Mind' was more than a Ray Charles song . . . send me!"
Get down! A New South radical chic, yellow dog, underdog, top dog, cur dog, Democratic, yuppified, gay-lesbian-macho, liberated, sexy, women for Julian Bond, Reagan-baiting revival!
"BOSS!" shouted one woman. "B! O! S! S! BOSS!"
"I've been crazy about John Lewis for 20 years," sighed Dorothy Gibson, the wife of a retired corporate executive. "I've never known anyone with more integrity and courage. But I just wanted to hear what Bond had to say."
"John's too nice," said Hanne Marie, a real estate agent. "He's not ready for D.C. He's got too much goodness in his heart. They might blow him over. But Julian can handle it."
A woman wearing willowy white silk, low cut, approached the candidate. She was unmarried and troubled, she said, by recent statistics alleging slim odds for women over 30 ever finding husbands. If elected, she smiled, might the candidate sponsor federal legislation making marriage by 18 mandatory for at least two years "so we all won't go nuts?"
Bond took her hand, gazing into big, deep blue eyes. "I'll take it under consideration," he said.
They are a study in contrasts, with different roots and styles. John Lewis grew up dirt poor near Troy, Ala., 50 miles south of Montgomery, the son of a black sharecropper with 10 children. With $300 saved in 1944, his father managed to buy 110 acres and began raising cotton, peanuts, cows, hogs and chickens.
Lewis worked his way through an all-black seminary and Fisk University, schools dependent on white philanthropy. He scrubbed pots, waited tables -- and soaked up strategy at then-grad student Marion Barry's workshops on nonviolence. He wound up as a force in the Nashville student movement, hunkering down at a local lunch counter a year before the famous 1960 Greensboro, N.C., sit-ins.
Among those calling Nashville "to find out what was going on," he recalls, was an Atlanta student leader named Julian Bond.
Bond hailed from the world of black intellectuals. He was born in Nashville, the second of three children, but grew up in Lincoln, Pa., where his father was a college president like his father before him. Weaned on racial issues, Bond met Albert Einstein and sat at the feet of black thinkers like W.E.B. Du Bois.
One of two black students at a white prep school outside Philadelphia, he moved here in 1957 when his father took over as dean of Atlanta University. Bond attended Morehouse College, and in 1960 helped organize a black boycott of Atlanta stores. He met Lewis at an Atlanta SNCC meeting, and they became friends.
At 23, Lewis was elected national chairman of SNCC, and later stood alongside King to address the masses at the Lincoln Memorial.
" Bond worked for me," said Lewis. "He got out press releases, sent telegrams. I was on the front lines in Montgomery, Birmingham, Mississippi. He stayed back in Atlanta. I'm not saying this in a negative way. He did a good job."
In 1965, Bond won election to the state house as part of the first crop of blacks to hit the legislature since Reconstruction, then became a media star when he was denied his seat for antiwar statements. He stumbled into it, says Lewis, taking credit for drafting the anti-Vietnam remarks that made Bond a hero.
Today, Lewis sounds bitter: "I spoke out against the war and that's how Julian got known . . . He's a taillight rather than a headlight. There's nothing he ever took the initiative on. I went on the Freedom Rides. I directed the sit-ins . . . "
Once, they were close. They flew to Africa together. Their families spent a week in California visiting Lillian's relatives. Julian took Alice and the kids; they all traipsed off to Disneyland.
Bond settled in at the state house, playing it safe at home, getting along with once leery white colleagues; but he thrived on his outsider status beyond the border, tirelessly stumping for lost causes out of conscience: McCarthy, McGovern, Udall in '76, Ted Kennedy in '80.
On the lecture circuit, he capitalized on his fame and silver tongue, bringing home the bucks. He wrote a column -- and a book rivals now tout as antiwhite.
Does Lewis really believe Bond hates whites? He shrugs: "I don't throw stones, I build bridges."
Et tu, Julian? "I love white people," he grins. "Some of my best friends are white."
Sniffs Lewis: "Many believe he has more in common with 'Saturday Night Live' than real life."
Now, John . . .
Lewis whips the Chevy into a gas station to fill up. A portly white gas jockey snorts at the candidate. He's 49, a Korean War veteran with tattoos and a pot belly. Does he claim a favorite? "All of 'em out for themselves," he says. "Only had one honest politician in Georgia history. Lester Maddox. Only one ever came out poor."
"When Lester Maddox was governor," Julian Bond is saying, "I took a group of blacks to see him about integrating the draft boards. Do you know what he said? 'You all fight in the Army, you ought to be on the draft boards.' And, boom, he did it. I can work with a Lester Maddox. As state senator, I've worked with governors Jimmy Carter, George Busbee, Joe Frank Harris. I've got the ability to get things done."
He's preaching to a mixed crowd at the Pig and Steer in Palmetto, Ga., a rural enclave south of Atlanta, where one white veteran refuses to shake his hand. As he recalls it, Bond burned his draft card. He never did, but such is the power of recollection. Bond moves on.
When Stokely Carmichael radicalized SNCC in 1966, Lewis jumped to the Field Foundation. He moved to Atlanta in 1967 to head a community organizing project for the Southern Regional Council. He hit the campaign trail for Robert Kennedy in 1968. Bond sailed on McCarthy's ship, but Lewis tried to get his friend to jump to Kennedy. He begged him to get on board the night RFK won the California primary -- just before he was shot by Sirhan Sirhan.
"Two months earlier, Dr. King had been assassinated," Lewis says. "It was the lowest point in my life. Then I thought, 'We still have Bobby.' I believed in that man."
He took over the Voter Education Project, enlisting Julian Bond, to help in the rural South. Together, they inspired thousands of citizens to register under the Voting Rights Act.
Lewis campaigned hard for Jimmy Carter, lost a bid for Congress, and signed on as deputy director of ACTION. But he never made the Washington glitterati.
"Too often," wrote former ACTION chief Sam Brown, "instead of appearing at the 'right' dinner parties, he was out visiting the poor on Indian reservations or in Appalachia. There is a depth to John, a moral clarity . . . "
In 1980, he came back to Atlanta, ran for the city council, got elected, and as an at-large council member, Lewis stood firm against Carter, Young and the black council president Marvin Arrington over a proposed parkway to the Carter Library. It aimed to cut through an old in-town neighborhood that was bitterly opposed. It didn't get the votes.
He stood alone against the city negotiating with a developer represented by Arrington's law firm. He saw it as a conflict of interest, pushing ethics legislation that passed only after it was watered down. He has political enemies; some say he "flip flops"sk,2 sw,-2 ld,10 on issues, but he's highly popular with the people.
"He's not a team player," huffs one black council member who supports Bond.
"That's code for, 'He can't be bought,' " smiles Lewis, praised by the local newspaper editorial board for his "clear sense of ethics and the courage to stand -- alone, if need be -- alongside his convictions."
After he was reelected to the council last year, Lewis invited Bond to lunch at the Marriott. He'd put out word a year earlier about his running for Congress and now was hearing that his old friend had similar ideas. "Well, senator, what are you gonna do?"
"I'm running, Mr. Chair," said Bond, summoning a nickname from Lewis' glory days as SNCC chairman. "What are you going to do?"
"I'm running, too," he said. "I'll see you on the campaign trail."
Reflects Lewis: "It was downhill from that moment on."
bat16 The pavement shimmers of heat as Lewis hops out at a shopping mall and begins pumping hands, passing out pamphlets. "It's going to be a tough decision," sighs John Lawrence, 40, a white college professor washing down a chicken filet with a Ginseng Delight. "They're both good men."
A white museum administrator applauds his stand on neighborhood preservation. "I've been a strong supporter," says Lewis, handing her a button.
And it's off to visit an inner city senior citizens center. "I need a lot of help," says Lewis, shaking hands, pinning on buttons. "I'll make sure no one cuts your Social Security."
"You'll fight?" asks Hubert Taylor, 73, a Bond man.
"I've always been a fighter," says Lewis, working the crowd.
Willie O. Kemp, 68, a retired cook, recalls the day Bond sat in at her store. "I had an uneasiness about it," she says, "but I'm glad they did it." So why is she for Lewis? "I just prefer John. He's more for the people."
He inquires about the heat, hears that an elderly high-rise is without working air conditioning after pleas to fix it, promises to check. "How you doin'?" he asks. "You all lookin' good."
"THANK YOU!" they chorus.
Then he reminds them: "In a different day, in a different time, some of us had to fight to bring about changes. I was there. When we had sit-ins and freedom rides, I was there . . . "
"I was there to march with Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery . . . Some of our brothers and sisters were arrested and beaten . . . I was there . . . "
Inez Head, 66, a retired laundry worker, is nodding. She sports a neck charm ("my key to a happier life"). She's heard them both. "Julian Bond speaks from the lip," she says, "but this one here speaks from the heart."
On the trail, Bond clutches a black looseleaf notebook. Aides prepared it to help him remember 40-odd bills he sponsored, authored or introduced over the past two years. There was little before that, save sickle cell anemia legislation and the black majority district he redrew.
As a $7,600-a-year state senator, he has risen to chair the county delegation. He's certainly got seniority, with 21 years under his belt, but some friends say the job is beneath him, that he could have moved on long ago, but lacked fire in the belly. Has he discovered new ambition? Will he be courting even higher office one day?
"I don't want to be vice president," he says. "President, maybe."
A Lewis memo picks at his claims of legislative productivity. But Bond fires back, flipping through the notebook as the Peugeot zips through traffic. "I've been elected to office more times than any black person in Georgia history, living or dead," he says. "You don't do it by being lazy, inaccessible."
He touts his appeal to blacks, whites, women, gays, lesbians, young, old. He's a protectionist, too, he says, same as House Majority Leader Jim Wright, who hosted a fund-raising dinner at the Harrimans' in Georgetown the other night.
But won't tariff bills price the Peugeot right out of the garage? He gets the drift. Without skipping a beat, he says, "We bought it from an American, but we're going to get rid of it." He stresses union ties. "I'm the only card-carrying union member in the race," he says.
And which union might that be?
"AFTRA," he says.
The actors union?
"So it's not the Teamsters," he shrugs.
Back to the notebook. He stabs at a page. "Here's the money I got for the AIDS clinic," he says, seemingly amused at the exercise. "Here's $35,000 for a senior citizens center . . . HERE WE GO!" He's found another one. "It didn't pass, but I did introduce it. That shows I'm an active guy."
He whizzes by a trailer park, en route to a rural white suburb. "I'm a big hit in these places," he smiles. "I go up to the biggest guy with a tattoo and tell him, 'I'm the only guy in this race with a tattoo.' "
He unbuttons his shirt to reveal a red rose on his left pectoral. A reporter is scribbling. A press secretary is screaming, "This is OFF THE RECORD!"
"It happened in Denver," says his wife Alice, "three years ago at an NAACP convention."
"THIS IS ALL OFF THE RECORD!"
Please, go on, senator. "I grew up in Philadelphia around a lot of sailors. They all had tattoos . . .This place seemed clean."
"It took about 2 1/2 hours," adds Alice. "He was in pain."
"No lingering pain," he says. James Brown comes on the radio. He's boogying to the beat, jabbing at the notebook, rattling off more bills.
"How about this one," he says with a wink. "It's for commending John Lewis!"