Sunday, March 11

Remembering the Reverend James Reeb

From Mass Moments [the whole thing worth a click and a read; tip of something tasty to David Stephenson]:

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 [1965], 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.


  1. Reeb was a Unitarian minister, no less.

    And I'll admit this. My father was once asked to join the KKK. He declined, though the phrase merely a fraternal organization has been spoken before.

    And you know, I'm not wise enough to know why there aren't mass protests anymore. I can't figure out how to galvanize the left. I can't figure out how to drag people away from distraction like TV, movies, gossip, and focus on things that are really important.

    So I am left with questions, just questions.

  2. Oh, my God! You mean this guy believed in GOD??? Doesn't that mean he was, like, DE-RANGED???

    Okay, I'll shut up...

  3. Actually, I have a story that applies here. The story of James Reeb is portrayed in a theatrical film that our students just saw in their social studies classes (they've been studying the Civil Rights movement). They were absolutely SHOCKED to learn that a white person had died in the struggle. We got an entire day of really positive conversation out of that. One of those "teachable moments" I live for.

    Thanks for this.

  4. By the way, you might want to do something about your word verification.

    I just got one that said "ufucx," and I was deeply offended by it.

  5. oh dave, i'll send you a box of chocotate chip cookies. that always helps me survive dirty words. ; ) smiling for ya!

  6. Anonymous7:12 PM

    LOL, QD! WTF!

    Anyway, regarding your actual responses: Yeah, you're totally deranged. In a way I'm happy to be acquainted with, by the way. I guess some of us atheists/agnostics have had enough mumbo-jumbo waved in our faces, taught to our kids and shoved down our gagging throats that we get a little unholier-than-thou. Pity, that. I'm inclined to embrace the basic tenets of most "World Religions" as positive frameworks for promoting the social contracts we need in order to be a civilized world. 'Nuff said.

    Blue Gal, thanks for this reminder of our deeply buried recent past. Not long ago I heard a radio interview with the curator of a museum in NYC documenting the history of lynching in America. It was absolutely devastating - I cried listening to it. I was amazed to hear about how many Jews and gays were lynched, something we didn't learn when I was in public school in the 60s. How the hell could such facts be so thoroughly excised from the historical record???

  7. Oh man, QD. Did Blogger get my secret message to you all messed up? It did have to do with "u" and well, some naughty words, but let's not go there. Woo woo...

    But seriously, I loved all those "teachable moments" re the civil rights movement. My history students really "got it" about civil disobedience when they saw clips of the lunch counter sit ins. These young blacks being doused with ketchup, beaten up, etc. and then the cops come and arrest THEM, not the guys who beat them. The moral outrage of a sixth know you've put a memory in their brain that will last forever.

    And emphasizing the importance of whites and their presence in the freedom rides: that if these buses had been all-black it would not have violated segregation, it WOULD be segregation---it was essential that there be blacks and whites on the buses together. And how young whites got beaten and a couple killed as a result of their work.

    And the sad bit that the American North did not really notice until whites were threatened. Sigh.

    Very teachable moments, indeed.

    (ilvuqd) there, that's better.

  8. Oh yeah and I was gonna get all righteous about how Reeb's actions were informed by his faith, but I didn't wanna, you know, get all Quaker Dave on my readers.

    hum hum hum (gazing at the ceiling sheepishly)

  9. QuakerDave: Formerly just a proper noun. Now an adjective. Soon to be a verb?

  10. I really am moving up in the world...

  11. ... right up there with, for example, "swiftboat."

  12. silly man! ; )but sweet!

    p.s. blue gal, tried to say a happy birthday over there but the "banned gremilin" has followed me. i am begining to hate haloscan.

    dave, is it ok to hate a "thingy"?

    ; )

  13. I sorta have a relative that had a Klan association. My uncle immingrated to the US in 1917. After he learned english he was told that it would be good if he joined civic groups to meet other business men. One day he saw a notice of a community meeting and decided that would be a good opportunity. He arrived late and was surprised by all the men in white sheets and deeply offened by the racial talk. Then the speaker started talking about killing immigrants. He quickly slipped out of the room and later joined Rotary.

    In the 60's I was working on a congressional campain. I was asked to stay late at headquarters for a meeting at 11 pm. The men that came to see the canidate were from the United Klans of America. I quit after the meeting. The canidate served 6 terms in the US congress.

  14. 1. i'm not surprised reeb was a unitarian.
    2. my grandfather was taken, late at night, with a blindfold of course, to a KKK meeting and asked to join. he politely declined and was again blindfolded and taken home. this was in louisiana, somwhere around 1915-1925. it's no wonder he soon left Louisiana for California, met my grandmother and had a couple of daughters, one of whom was my mom, who later became a Unitarian.


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