Whites in Black History Series:
Rev. James Joseph Reeb
Reverend James Reeb received his Masters of Divinity at the Princeton Theological Seminary in 1953. He was one of others in that class who put truth to practice by adhering to the call of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Like many ministers fresh out of Seminary he sought the opportunity to serve and make a difference. Although I can only assume based off my own experiences with ministers, I’m sure the same would be true for Rev. Reeb as well.
Some of the issues experienced in many churches today can be attributed to ministers who want to serve, but true calling was not to be a minister. It is often a thankless, unappreciative and difficult position to purposely want to be in. When you are called to be a witness to truth there isn’t any amount of reluctance or even disobedience that will keep you away from it.
Rev. Reeb was a compassionate man who served as a Presbyterian Chaplain in a hospital in Philadelphia before becoming an Assistant Pastor for a Unitarian Universalist Church in Washington D.C.
He worked helping people with low income in Boston before he found his way to Selma, Alabama during the late winter of 1965 to help in a voting rights campaign. He hadn’t been in the state for a day before people who believed they were patriots acting out of their own ignorance, fear and what they’ve been taught to believe as true, attacked Rev. Reeb while walked from a diner.
Rev. Reeb died March 11, 1965 resulting from that attack at the same age I am today writing this, 38. His attackers were all arrested and brought to trail where an all White jury set them free. Some believed that was justice, but maybe it’s just us who justice doesn’t see because this scenario repeated itself thousands of times in courtrooms throughout the U.S. The value of a person’s life often hinges on the life the person lead in the consciousness of those who is responsible for taking the life and those who are responsible for assuring redemption for the taking of life.
Rev. Reeb’s murder was untimely and unwarranted. Dr. King delivered his eulogy where he said that James Joseph Reeb was a witness to truth. Although I agree I would also say that he was more than a witness to truth, he was a follower, servant and advocate for truth. His only crime was that he dared to subscribe to what is true and live by it.
“And if he should die, take his body, and cut it into little stars. He will make the face of Heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night.” – Shakespeare
Rev. James Reeb was more than a witness to truth, but a follower and servant of truth because he knew he could not just be concerned about justice for Blacks in the South. He lived in Roxbury, MA, at the time a Black community.
He was not concerned about the narrow-minded opinions of Whites and Blacks who would be suspicious of him and his family because of where he had chosen to live and what motivated him throughout his life. Truth was his livelihood and concern for others was the wages he freely paid.
There is so much that I can say and for us to learn about James Reeb, but as I conclude I must end this opportunity with these words of Dr. King spoke at the funeral of Rev. James Reeb.
“The world is aroused over the murder of James Reeb for he 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.
Again, we must ask the question: Why must good men die for doing good? O Jerusalem, why did you murder the prophets and persecute those who come to preach your salvation? So the Reverend James Reeb has something to say to all of us in his death.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
My final words are in regards to James Reeb, Dr. King and all of the people who served and was a witness to truth, both notable and those who has not been recognized. Thank you. I mean that sincerely. Thank you. I understand the importance of what you and so many others did. Regardless of race, regardless of religious preferences, regardless of gender and regardless of sexual preferences COUNTLESS… people were beaten, suffered economically and socially, struggled and even killed on my behalf so that I could one day be just one voice willing to speak/write with the completeness in recognition of history’s heroes.
Our fight is not over, but I know how important it is that I do all that I can do and encourage others to keep fighting for truth so that we can be a witness like Rev. James Joseph Reeb.
Motivation & Inspiration:
For those who may ask or wonder the reason for such a post I offer my reasons here. Two years ago on this blog I published a post titled “Whites in Black History”. I did it to emphasize the positive role White people people played in Black History. Often we will begin hearing the calls for the end of the celebration or governors, politicians and organizations interestingly choosing to celebrate Confederate History as if that is the whole of the history of White Americans. The list goes on for days with the reasons given by those who have not taken the time to consider their role in Black History. It is not just a history of a people, but all of us. This is the point.
So often in schools only one perspective of history is taught with a brief mentioning of a few others. This plays into the ignorance of a culture. We are so willing to take a line and run with it without considering the sentence or the paragraph. We can not continue to have such a narrow-minded view and perception of history if we are to consider ourselves moving forward.
My motives behind this is not to exclude the contributions of Blacks, Jews, Hispanics and many others who made significant contributions to the history of Black people in America. It is to highlight how rich the history truly is and sharing it with others. I have personally written and mentioned many people beyond the notable names of Dr. King or Malcolm X. Not to diminish their works and ultimate sacrifices, but as I’m sure they would and did say, there’s more to a people than what you see. All I’m doing is trying to help you see it for yourself.
Now there will be those who simply choose to ignore all of this and remain in the state of consciousness they are familiar with. Some will be more willing to settle for the “I’m OK, if You’re OK” position and see this effort and others made as just a nice tribute to history. I accept this reality and understand that I can not change the mind of everyone. Some people are just not unwilling, but that’s alright. It should not be a factor in what others may receive from this effort. So I submit this edition of my collection titled “Whites in Black History” regarding Rev. James J. Reeb.
Thank you for your time and reading :)