Saturday, March 7, 2015
The Courage to Bridge the Divide: An Homage to Rev. James Reeb
On March 7, 1965, people who were attempting to peacefully march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama where savagely turned back by police. Reeb and his wife were among those who watched the television news coverage of the day's events.
In response to what came to be known as "Bloody Sunday," King sent out a call to clergy around the country to join him in Selma for a second attempt to cross that bridge on Tuesday, March 9. Reeb heard about King’s request on the morning of March 8, and he was on a plane heading to Selma later that evening.
Although people were prevented from crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7 they succeeded two days later and Reeb was among them. So began the landmark civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery which took place two weeks later.
On March 15, President Johnson invoked Reeb’s memory when he delivered a draft of the Voting Rights Act that would remove barriers preventing African Americans from registering to vote.
The people who assembled on March 7, 1965 were turned back by the ignorance of racism. Fifty years later Barack Obama, the first African American President of the United States joined 100 members of Congress to once again cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Another Edmund by the name of Burke said that "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Reeb knew that his actions were dangerous but he also knew how important it was for him to stand and be counted.
On the day he was murdered Reeb addressed hundreds of clergy that had gathered at Brown’s Chapel, "I would rather die on the highways of Alabama, than make a butchery of my conscience," he said. These are the words of a man whose awe inspiring courage helped the civil rights movement to take a quantum leap forward.
Delivering Reeb’s eulogy, King called him, "a shining example of manhood at its best." He went on to say, "James Reeb symbolizes the forces of good will in our nation. He demonstrated the conscience of the nation. He was an attorney for the defense of the innocent in the court of world opinion. He was a witness to the truth that men of different races and classes might live, eat, and work together as brothers."
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Reeb's great sacrifice, we may ask ourselves whether we corroborate Burke's thesis.