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Remembering James Reeb

Remembering James Reeb

Remembering the Rev. James Reeb, who died fifty years ago today in Selma, Alabama. His march to Selma began long before the day of his death.

Washington Post:

At Philadelphia General Hospital, where Rev. James Reeb worked in 1956 as a chaplain, the strict Presbyterian minister suffered a crisis of faith while tending to drug addicts and the city’s poor.

“His theology had told him that if people were suffering, that it was God’s punishment for their sins,” said Rev. Rob Hardies, the pastor at All Souls Church Unitarian in Northwest Washington, D.C. at a special service held in Reeb’s memory earlier this month. “But this judging voice was at war with another voice inside him that told him ‘These are your brothers and sisters.’”

Reeb was an associate minister at the Unitarian Universalist church from 1959 until 1964 before joining a Quaker non-profit in Boston to work on housing issues. He died 50 years ago today, after a vicious beating by white segregationists in Alabama.

In 1965, Reeb answered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for clergy to join civil rights marchers in Selma, Ala.

Posted  by Andrew Gerns


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Jean Lall

Thanks for this commemorative post.

A further quote from the Post article: “When did he first give his life over to the cause of freedom?” Hardies asked his congregation. “Jim started marching long before Selma. Maybe Reeb’s march to Selma began in that Philadelphia hospital.”

Actually, I think Jim Reeb’s march began much earlier, while he was still a high school student in Casper, Wyoming, volunteering with a Boys’ Club in the poorest section of town. Already clear about his calling to ministry, he also already saw the effects of racism in Casper and dedicated himself to serving the vulnerable, being there for those who needed him most. Even then he was proactive, recruiting a local Lutheran pastor to help the Club and provide continuity when Jim graduated from high school and left for military service and college.

There is a fine short biography of Reeb available online at , a chapter from a book by Jack Mendelsohn. It goes into detail about how his ministry unfolded over his lifetime.

Even better, the full-length biography, ‘No Greater Love: The James Reeb Story’, by the Rev. Duncan Howlett, who was senior pastor at All Souls Church while Reeb served there, can be read online: . (the book is out of print)

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