“Hey, Google! — Who taught in Wrens and Valdosta from 1966-1972; moved to Statesboro, and became the first black professor at Georgia Southern University in 1973; retired in 1996 as full Professor Emeritus, becoming the first black professor to earn full professorship in 1991; gained notoriety as the “Reading Professor” by giving “reading buddies” (stuffed animals) to children as he read wearing full academic regalia; and in 2009 penned, sang and produced his own Christmas carol CD— all while blind?”
“Your answer,” says Google, “is Dr. Charles Wesley Bonds II, Ed.D.” He resides in Statesboro with his wife of 49 years, Dr. Lella Theresa Gantt Bonds, and says that he “never would have accomplished anything if not for her.” Their son is Charles Wesley Bonds III, and granddaughter Charlize Theresa Bonds is 13. And Darryl Shipman lovingly calls him “Pop.”
Bonds is definitely no stranger in Bulloch County. In 1981, he taught reading for the GSU Upward Bound program. In 1994, he was duly honored for what Dr. Randy Gunter, director, calls a “commitment to educational excellence.” Today, hundreds of successful students still sing his praises. Truly, he is the “head” and not the tail, literally.
Unbelievably Bonds, a native of Headland, Alabama, comes from a family of 20 “head of children”—10 boys and 10 girls; he was No. 5. His father C.W. Bonds, owner of Bonds Garage, prophetically nicknamed him “Head” due to his intelligence since young Charles read auto manuals aloud to him. He was the first one on his father’s side to finish high school and college, and earn a doctorate. When asked what she remembers about her son, his mother, Lillie Bonds, 93, says that he always had his “head stuck in a book” or was helping Ms. Hildreth, his high school librarian, catalogue books. In fact, knowing the Dewey Decimal System procured him a needed college work-study job as a library assistant.
After high school, Bonds “headed off” to Alabama State University with a suitcase “empty of clothes but full of hope.” There, he earned his B.S. in Elementary Education with a minor in Social Science. Later, he obtained his M.Ed. (1972) and his Ed.S. (1974) in Reading Education from GSU. Then, he “headed down” to the University of Florida on a stipend from GSU where he obtained his Doctorate in Reading in 1978.
Bonds “headed up” programs while at GSU. In 1972-73, it was the federally funded Right-to-Read Project. From 1973-78, it was the Learning Analysis Center as coordinator. He was also the adviser for the Black Student Alliance, the AAC Club and choir, the Good News Bible study, and several fraternities such as Alpha Upsilon Alpha. In addition, he founded the National Honor Society in Reading Education, which is affiliated with the International Reading Association. In 1994, he received a well-deserved University Service Award.
Unsurprisingly, Bonds has co-authored three books, the last two with his wife: “A Genealogical History of the John Mitchell Smith Family and Descendents” (1990), “African American Biographies of Bulloch Countians” (1994), and “Teachers of the Year in the United States” (1998), and he is knowledgeable in the fields of reading, elementary and special education as well as educational administration. Exceptional evaluations, South African travels, and presentations at state, national and international levels attest to his professionalism. His articles appear in Georgia Journal of Reading, the International Reading Association, and the local “A Bulloch Tapestry,” to name a few. Most importantly, he is a hero to his son, a humble soulmate to his wife, and a trailblazer to others.
Bonds is definitely a humanist dedicated to serving others. Possessing numerous accolades, he says “my greatest and the ones that I am most proud of are my belief and faith in mankind.” He feels that “we all persist in love, respect and humility for all people.” As a testament, his friendly home displays numerous reading paraphernalia and meritorious service awards: Deen Day Smith Service Award (1995); BSA/NAACP Essence Award for Distinguished Service (May 1995); Appreciation for Dedication to Reading and Literacy (Alpha Upsilon Alpha, 1993); 4th annual Black Image Award (1990); AAC for Services Rendered (May 1981); NAACP Appreciation for Services in Reading (1985); Citizen of the Year Award (Omega Psi Phi Frat, 2003), Grand Marshall, MLK parade (2007), GSU African-American Caucus (1996), and the list goes on.
As a 44-year member at Original First African Baptist Church, he served as deacon, assistant superintendent, choir member and Sunday school teacher. He co-founded its Brotherhood Ministry and the food ministry, which is now called Outreach. For 16 years, he served on the Bulloch County Board of Education, District 5, and oversaw the construction of all the recently-built schools. He held membership in the Bulloch Historical Society (13 years), United Way, Sta-Buc, NAACP and several other civic organizations. In 2016, GSU erected a Georgia commemorative marker in Sweetheart Circle hailing Bonds as the first professor to integrate GSU faculty.
Having written black history articles for the Statesboro Herald for three decades, he still oversees their submissions. His 1994 blindness from myasthenia gravis (a rare immune system disorder) allows him to “reinvent” himself.” He now memorizes entire chapters from the Bible, plays the keyboard, sings and listens to audio books; however, his newest companion is his “Hey Google” and when he asks it, “who is the ‘headiest’ professor in Bulloch County?” Its answer will always be the same — Dr. Charles Wesley Bonds II, Ed.D., lover of people, music and life itself.