A friend later wrote [of James Reeb] that "the entire civil rights struggle suddenly came to a focus in him. . . . He was a white minister who had come to Selma to support the Negro cause. He was a peaceable man who became the victim of a wholly unprovoked attack."
When he died, early on March 11th , there was mourning—and outrage—around the country. The next day, Congress resounded with speeches denouncing the brutality and calling for government intervention. Deeply moved by the death of "that good man," President Lyndon Johnson instructed his aides to draft a voting rights bill.
It took the courage of whites to come to the South and risk death, hell, to get killed, to get the attention of white northerners and provoke even a little shame in white southerners. Another blog points out that Reeb's "assailant didn't even feel the need to hide his face." When I taught the civil rights movement to my middle school students, I can't tell you the number of times I brought up "found not guilty by an all white jury."
I don't think we realize how it was. We've dumped so much down the memory hole to hide our own shame or that of our forebearers. How many white people with two generations or more in Alabama/Mississippi/Louisiana, etc. have a Klan member on their family tree? We just don't talk about that. We move on. Birmingham has a black mayor (has for years) and the best civil rights museum in the country, imho. But we have forgotten the courage, the blindness, the danger.
Which brings me to this time in history. Remind me again why we are not picketing FOX news affiliates, just on principle. Why we are not standing in front of The White House every single day with a sign that says "GEORGE W. BUSH--FASCIST AND THIEF, GO BACK TO CRAWFORD AND TAKE HALLIBURTON WITH YOU. AND CURSE YOU FOR WHAT YOU HAVE DONE TO THIS NATION."
And then I wonder if technology had accelerated faster than history, if Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy and yeah, Malcolm X would have hadda blog. You bet your pink ass they would.
King's eulogy to Reeb is here.