JAMES REEB. You may not recognize his name. Or you may remember an actor portraying the Rev. Reeb in a scene in the movie, Selma. Or heard/read his name in a recent news story.
Today, just outside the entrance to Rolvaag Library on the hilltop campus of St. Olaf College in the southern Minnesota community of Northfield, Reeb is honored with a memorial for his efforts in the Civil Rights Movement.
His involvement cost him his life.
On March 9, 1965, Reeb and two friends were attacked after dining at a Selma restaurant run by local black citizens. The Massachusetts clergyman, an outspoken advocate for civil rights, desegregation and more, died two days later from his injuries.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who’d called upon clergy to join a voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, delivered Reeb’s eulogy.
Reeb’s death served as a catalyst for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, according to information published on the memorial to this 1950 St. Olaf graduate.
To view this recently-installed memorial, to read that Reeb possessed “a healing personality, but his convictions are like iron” is to understand that one voice can make a difference. Reeb considered taking a stand for justice more important than remaining in the safety of his home. He left his family in Massachusetts to join the march from Selma to Montgomery. While walking to a planning meeting for that march, Reeb was brutally attacked.
In Reeb’s eulogy, King noted that, “His death says to us that we must work passionately, unrelentingly, to make the American dream a reality, so he did not die in vain.”
Those are words we would do well to remember today, 50 years after Reeb’s death and the march from Selma to Montgomery.
© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling