James Reeb

(January 1, 1927 — March 11, 1965). Reeb was an American white Unitarian Universalist minister from Boston, Massachusetts who, while marching for civil rights in Selma, Alabama, was beaten to death by segregationists [1]. He was 38 years old.

James Reeb was born in Wichita, Kansas. As a Unitarian Universalist minister, Reeb was active in the civil rights movement, and encouraged his parishioners to do the same. With his wife and four children, he lived in poor black neighborhoods where he felt he could do the most good. Until a few months before his death, he had been Assistant Minister at All Souls Church, Unitarian in Washington, D.C.

A member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Reeb took part in the Selma to Montgomery protest march in 1965. While in Selma on March 9, Reeb was attacked by a white mob armed with clubs, which inflicted massive head injuries. He died in a Birmingham hospital two days later. His death resulted in a national outcry against the activities of white racists in the Deep South, although some expressed indignation that it took the death of a white man to incite such a national outcry. This is to be compared with the case of Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was shot by police in Selma two weeks earlier while protecting his mother from a beating; his case attracted much less national attention.

President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the events in Selma "an American tragedy," which, he said, should strengthen people's determination "to bring full and equal and exact justice to all of our people." Johnson's voting rights proposal reached Congress the Monday after Reeb's death.

The James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Madison, Wisconsin is named in honor of Rev. Reeb.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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