What Would Rev. James Reeb Do About Voter Suppression?
On March 7, 1965—dubbed “Bloody Sunday”—civil rights activists in Selma, Alabama were violently attacked by police as they demonstrated for voting rights for Black Americans. Bones were broken; skulls fractured. In total, more than 100 people were injured. In response to this tragedy, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called for clergy from across the country to join him for yet another march in Selma. Rev. James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister, and I were on the same plane from Boston, flying south with hundreds of others to join Dr. King. We marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge toward Montgomery, held a prayer service, and then returned to Selma. That night, Jim Reeb was severely beaten as he left a restaurant where he had been dining with colleagues. He died a few days later, at the age of 38. The brutal murder of a white man, a member of the clergy, was a key moment in a series of events that led President Johnson to introduce the landmark Voting Rights Act, just days later.
Nearly fifty years later, I am reminded of Selma as I witness new voter ID laws popping up across our country. These laws will disenfranchise huge numbers of Americans this November—especially African Americans, the elderly, and college students. These voter ID laws make a mockery of the Selma to Montgomery March and the many sacrifices that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
We must ask ourselves: Did James Reeb and the others who were killed as they sought voting rights for African Americans die in vain?
Let us work to ensure that is not the case! Please join me in shining the light on discriminatory voter suppression efforts underway in our country. Click here to learn more about the issue and how you can get involved.
I returned to Selma recently and visited the memorial created to honor Jim. I remember wondering what Jim’s reaction would be to our current state of affairs. Today’s voter ID laws are truly a 21st century replication of the biased policies that he and I and so many others worked to overturn.
That Tuesday in 1965, when Jim and I and hundred of others gathered with Dr. King in Selma to call for full voting rights for African Americans, was a collective expression of what it means to “stand on the side of love.” Today, our work continues as we struggle to ensure that everyone has the ability to exercise his or her right to vote.
Please speak out against voter suppression. Click here for resources to get involved this election season.
As we remember the many people like Jim Reeb who lost their lives fighting for the right to vote, and those who sacrificed so much along the way, may we all be as bold and brave in speaking out for true democracy.
Standing on the side of love,
Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell
Retired United Methodist minister and a “foot soldier” in the Civil Rights Movement
PS: My current project is a documentary film discussing the intersections of racism, heterosexism, and religion. Visit truthinprogress.com to learn more.
The message above went out on Thursday, September 27, 2012 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here.