After nearly 20 months of bureaucratic back-and-forth, a bench commemorating the life of civil rights icon Julian Bond was dedicated Monday outside the Chevy Chase Community Center.
District officials, Bond’s friends and family and former members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which Bond co-founded, gathered on the sidewalk along the 5600 block of Connecticut Avenue NW for the dedication ceremony.
“I’m so happy, because Julian always talked about wanting a bench, and now he has a bench,” said Bond’s widow, Pamela Horowitz, 71, who lives in Chevy Chase. She said she hopes people sit on the bench and “think about how to make the world a better place.”
Bond, who died two years ago, was chairman of the NAACP, a member of Georgia’s state legislature for 20 years and a national civil rights leader. He was active in D.C. politics — including advocating for statehood — and loved strolling in Chevy Chase, where he lived for 27 years.
Many who gathered Monday morning had worried the bench’s installation would never happen. In May, after 18 months of emails between District officials and neighborhood leaders, D.C. Transportation Director Leif A. Dormsjo wrote in an email that he’d had “second thoughts on the bench” and didn’t think it should be installed.
That position changed once the issue gained more publicity after an article in The Washington Post, said D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3).
“It seems to me to be a no-brainer,” said Cheh, whose ward includes Chevy Chase. “But it took publicizing their obstructionist behavior for something to happen.”
Terry Owens, a D.C. Transportation Department spokesman, did not say why the agency had reversed itself. In an email, he said the agency had worked with the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission to place the bench and would work with the group to maintain it.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who spoke at the dedication ceremony, said that by the time her office heard about the delays, plans to install the bench were in place.
Bowser, 44, said she could not “even imagine the bravery” it took for Bond and fellow members of SNCC to travel to parts of the country where acts as simple as “riding on a bus or sitting at a counter could cost you your life.”
“That fellowship as neighbors has never been more important,” Bowser said.
Before he died, Bond helped come up with the inscription for the dedication plaque on the black metal bench, which reads, “In Memory of Julian Bond, 1940-2015, ‘Race Man,’ a Life Dedicated to Civil Rights.”
Had the plaque been double-sided, he would have liked the back to say, “Easily Amused,” Horowitz said, in recognition of the need to have a sense of humor while pushing for racial equality.
Nearly a dozen veterans of SNCC, which Bond co-founded in 1960, attended the dedication.
“This is like being back with Julian,” said SNCC member Joan Mulholland, 75. “If you can’t see him in person, then this is the next best thing.”
The bench memorializing Bond replaced a more “dilapidated” bench at that location, said Randy Speck, the local ANC chair. The plaque was installed Thursday.
The good news, Cheh said, is that all the back-and-forth led to plans for an additional bench in the city to honor Bond’s memory.
When the DDOT appeared to be backtracking, Cheh decided she “had to come up with a Plan B.” She called American University, where Bond had been a professor, and asked to have a bench installed in his name there. The university quickly agreed.
“Out of some sense of obstacle and craziness came a benefit,” Cheh said. Details haven’t been confirmed, she said, but the dedication will probably happen after students have returned to campus in the fall.