|In 1965 fifty
nuns marched in Selma, Alabama to get 'liberty and justice for all,"
They marched arm in arm with black and white laity and clergy of
varied faiths. They responded to the call of Martin Luther King,
Jr. to put their lives on the line in a protest affirming faith
in the American Creed of individual equality in freedom. One of
those who went was a young minister, James Reeb.
I happened to know Jim. The first time I met him was on a Sunday
when he attended the church of which I was the pastor. His unmistakable
friendliness was immediately evident, and it did not take long to
feel the fuller depth of his passion for the powerless. Members
of the congregation appreciated this when Jim conducted the services
of worship when I was preaching elsewhere.
For the preceding four years, Jim had been the Protestant Chaplain
at the Philadelphia General Hospital. At the time he was doing Y.M.C.A.
work with youth. I happened to help to work out arrangements by
which he began his next five years of work as one of the ministers
of All Souls Church in the nation's capitol. Among his activities
there, he substantially aided the underprivileged by serving as
the chairman of the pioneering Neighborhood Council. He also was
the founding chairman of another important new establishment, an
interfaith association of Washington, D.C., clergy.
Jim's next ministry was full-time work to help raise standards of
life in Boston's black ghettoa difficult assignment with the
American Friends Service Committee. To do this he and his family
moved into the neighborhood of the ghetto, waging daily war against
poverty and prejudice.
He didn't want to go to Selma, nor did Marie, his wife, want him
to go. Though he was well aware of the dangers, Jim decided to go
because, as he said, "It's the kind of fight I believe in."
One senseless blow on the head by an unknown assailant took his
life and left his children fatherless. Nevertheless, his death was
not in vain. The nation was enraged, including President Lyndon
Johnson, who lay the federal Voting Rights Act before a special
session of Congress the following Monday evening.
Two days after her husband's death Marie Reeb received the following
letter, accompanied by a medal:
Dear Mrs. Reeb,
Twenty years ago I was awarded the enclosed medal. The citation
read in part-"volunteered to accompany a platoon of light
tanks in order to point out targets for their effective firehe
advanced through a town in advance of the armored vehicles-firing
his submarine at targets of opportunity.
Your late husband, Reverend Reeb, volunteered to accompany his
fellowmen against a greater threat to the principles of our country
than my opponent, the German soldier.Reverend Reeb was unarmed
except for his convictions; his "armed support" was
the songs and prayers of the oppressed.
"Would you please give this medal to your oldest son, John?
His father was a much braver American than I...."
Harvard Square Library • 2005 ::