Julian Bond Engineered 1960s civil rights protests that outmaneuvered segregationists and astonished the country. He had a gift for charismatic speeches that exposed the absurdities of Jim Crow and distinguished him from preachers who dominated the movement. He was elected to the Georgia legislature at 25, won a court decision to force a resistant white legislature to seat him and was nominated as Democratic candidate for Vice President at 28–too young under the Constitution to actually serve. The longtime chair of the NAACP, he pushed it to adopt a more inclusive agenda.
He will be remembered for his intellect, charm and eloquence. But he died with a fighter’s spirit that forced an entire nation to recognize the urgency of confronting all that our shameful history of racial injustice has done.
Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative
This appears in the August 31, 2015 issue of TIME.