Rev. Nye Bond (’39, Honorary Doctor of Divinity, ’91) Lincoln, March 12, 2012
Rev. Nye Bond served during World War II as an Army chaplain. He spent the bulk of his life thereafter in service for peace.
Bond was a founding member of Nebraskans for Peace. He earned the organization’s Peacemaker of the Year Award in 2004.
In 1964, he and Darrel Berg (’48) coordinated a trip to Hattiesburg, Miss., to join nonviolent African American voter registration demonstrations. Bond and Berg received Nebraska Wesleyan’s first NWU Humanitarian Awards in 2001.
“Until the Hattiesburg demonstration, the favorite word for racial civil rights in Hattiesburg was ‘never,’” Bond told Archways magazine in 2005. “After the demonstration, several local pastors and businessmen acknowledged that the time had come for the advancement of racial integration and civil rights in Mississippi. Like ripples from a stone cast into still water, the repercussions from those 72 hours in Hattiesburg have spread into other times and places in the continuing struggle for human dignity for all people.”
He is survived by three children and their spouses, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
In memory of Rev. Nye Bond (’39), we republish this article from our spring 2005 issue of Archways on Bond and Berg’s contribution to the 1964 voter demonstrations.
A Cause for Faith: Two alumni reflect on their stand in Hattiesburg, Mississippi
by Justin Runge (’06)
Any complex story has several points of view. Even the “Good Book”, Dr. Darrel Berg (’48) points out, has more than one version. "In the Christian faith, we have the King James Version of the Bible, and the Revised Standard Edition." He likens this example to a story he shares with Rev. Nye Bond (’39).
"He has the King James Version; I'll tell you the Revised Standard Edition."
Their shared story is one of six men and three days in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, during the height of the civil rights movement. Memories fade, but this trip’s place in our nation’s consciousness is permanent. "We were part of history when we got involved in that movement.”
In January 1964, the National Council of Churches asked Berg, then the Social Action Chair for the Nebraska Council, to assemble a group of Lincoln clergy for a trip to Hattiesburg. There, they would protest for black voting rights.
"I got on the phone right away," Berg recalls. "You know, it was like, 'Call me later. I'll talk to my wife.' It was like what Jesus said in the parable, 'I've married a wife and cannot come,' or 'I've bought a parcel of land. I have to go and check it.' Well, that's the runaround I got." The choice was difficult.
"I think I got the runaround from these colleagues of mine because I wasn't really sold on going down there myself," Berg says. "Finally, the last call I made—this is the Gospel truth—the last call I made was on Nye Bond."
Bond, a fellow Wesleyan alumnus, was a United Methodist minister. Dr. Berg says that Rev. Bond was the sole reason the trip ever became possible. Bond refutes that claim and credits Berg.
"It was Darrel's desire to do something that got me thinking about going," Rev. Bond says. "Darrel Berg called me and said, 'How about going to Hattiesburg?'”
The violence in the South had made front pages in previous years with bombed churches and lynchings all too common. The KKK was strong, and activists rightly feared for their lives. Three activists, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman, were murdered for doing what Berg and Bond were considering. "All this violence... you had to see this was a dangerous thing to do. It's one thing to read about it and another thing to do something about it."
Going required tremendous courage. Rev. Bond cites his time at Wesleyan as a main source of moral strength. He studied Ghandi at Wesleyan. He also attended a lecture by John Griffith, author of Black Like Me. The white Griffith underwent a procedure to darken his skin to experience the everyday struggles of a black southern American. The town Griffith chose for his experiment was Hattiesburg. "John Griffith really motivated me," Bond claims. “My social consciousness was being raised all the time."
Bond reflected on his Wesleyan experience and spoke with his wife, Garnet. "I called [Berg] back the next morning and I said I'd go."
Dr. Berg views that phone call as the spark. "Within a matter of hours… I had four more guys [Ralph Hays, Dayton Olsen, Alan Pickering, and Charles Stephens]. That's the Gospel truth."
They made plans for the trip. "One of [the six] happened to be a pilot, so we rented a plane… and we flew to Jackson." Their decision not to fly directly to Hattiesburg was strategic. "We wanted to drive into Hattiesburg with a Mississippi license," Rev. Bond explains. They did not want to be targeted as outsiders.
When they arrived, the drove to a predominantly African American Methodist church. There they received instructions on the next three days. Dr. Berg recalls, "We were told to bring reading material because we would probably be jailed."
Berg remembers trying to sleep that first night in an African American family's home. "I thought about how easy it would be to be stopped, to see violence. Sleeping that night, we heard the sirens ringing in the distance, and thought about the churches being bombed."
"We left that morning about 9:00 to walk to the courthouse square. It was raining," recalls Rev. Bond. "From the church to the square we were singing 'We Shall Overcome.'" Their group was about 50 members strong with clergy from many denominations and faiths.
"We hit the sidewalks, marching around the Hattiesburg courthouse carrying signs encouraging black people to cross the street, go into the courthouse and vote."
Rev. Bond describes a tense moment outside the courthouse. "We heard in the distance after 20 minutes the cadence of marching. The police came and formed a circle around the square, but they were facing the people on the sidewalks. We realized then we would be all right. It was not in their best interest for this town to have, on TV, clergymen being arrested."
The trip proved to be free of any violent conflict. "People would curse at us and spit at our feet while we were walking around, and we did get some angry looks, but none of us was ever attacked physically," Dr. Berg points out. "There was no incident."
By the end of the three days, 25 African American citizens of Forrest County were registered to vote, up from 12 prior to the demonstration. In a year, that number would grow into the thousands.
Police did arrest one of the protesters. "His name was [Robert] Moses. He was a civil rights leader. So we all went into the courthouse and in the courtroom the beadle—he's a kind of secretary or scribe for the judge—the beadle asked us if we would rearrange ourselves out of respect to the great state of Mississippi, according to segregated lines. That meant the blacks on one side and the whites on the other side. We decided we weren't going to do it, so we sat still. Then the beadle and the judge huddled, and the judge then allowed, since we came from another part of the country, we could be excused this time, from observing the lines of segregation."
Rev. Bond views this as one of the small victories the dedicated clergymen made during their stay in Hattiesburg. "There were two firsts happening because of our trip: a demonstration was permitted, and…the courtroom was desegregated.”
The judge dismissed Robert Moses' charges later that day.
Rev. Bond writes, “Until the Hattiesburg demonstration, the favorite word for racial civil rights in Hattiesburg was ‘never.’ After the demonstration several local pastors and businessmen acknowledged that the time had come for the advancement of racial integration and civil rights in Mississippi. Like ripples from a stone cast into still water, the repercussions from those 72 hours in Hattiesburg have spread into other times and places in the continuing struggle for human dignity for all people.”
Thanks to alumni like Rev. Nye Bond and Dr. Darrel Berg, Nebraska Wesleyan University is a part of those ripples for positive change in our country. Says Dr. Berg, "At Wesleyan I made my transition from personal issues to social issues, and that's something that might not have happened at another school. That was one of the distant, early signals that I would go to Hattiesburg. What I was experiencing—not just what I was learning intellectually, but what I was experiencing at Wesleyan: acceptance, the love. There's no other word for it but love."