Saturday, November 8, 2008

Being James Reeb

There are many civil rights activists that I know, including Viola Liuzzo, a Unitarian mother from Michigan who was murdered after the Selma to Montgomery marches in Alabama, and some that I am coming to know.

Today I learned of the sacrifice of Reverend James Reeb, the Boston Unitarian minister who responded to an urgent telegram from Dr. Martin Luther King to participate in a non-violent march in Selma, Alabama.

Many thanks to the Unitarians for their love, sense of justice, and bravery. It's not by accident that in the very heart of such unrest both were of this particular religious denomination from two different states. People of other faiths fought non-violently too.


Reverend Reeb and two other Unitarian ministers responded to Dr. King's call. The day after their arrival in Selma, he and the other ministers were beaten by four white assailants. Reverend Reeb later died after having taken blows to the head. Dr. King eulogized the good reverend:

"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"

These beautiful words from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet so eloquently describe the radiant life of James Reeb. He entered the stage of history just 38 years ago, and in the brief years that he was privileged to act on this mortal stage, he played his part exceedingly well.


With the election of Barack Obama, it is very important to remember that many people have brought us to this very day. These include dedicated Abolitionists who lead the Underground Railroad and the Iowan voters who delivered that initial victory for President-elect Obama, without which this day would not have been possible.

10 comments:

dave wheeler said...

Judith...thank you for sharing this. I went out to find out more about Mr. Reeb and came across this excerpt of the diary of Richard Leonard who also was in Selma and in attendance at Mr. Reeb's eulogy by Dr. King.


"Everyone moved a bit in his or her seat when King asked rhetorically, “Who killed Jim Reeb?” He answered: A few ignorant men. He then asked, “What killed Jim Reeb?” and answered: An irrelevant church, an indifferent clergy, an irresponsible political system, a corrupt law enforcement hierarchy, a timid federal government, and an uncommitted Negro population." I see three of these factors still being factors when it comes to the issue of fixing the socio-economic disparities that affect our nation today. I can't speak to the other three.

I voted for President-elect Obama for the reason it appears that many of my generation did...to honor Dr. King and the dream he had for our nation. A dream I hope to see fulfilled before I pass. Character not color. It is not my call to to see if I live by those words...it is in the judgment of those who know me. Who hear what I see and see what I do.

Thanks Judith for reminding folks that "we" as a people can do great things when united behind a common goal or purpose. That would be real change!

John O'Leary said...

I have come to love the Unitarian Universalist philosophy after being derisive of it as a young pup (because I thought it didn't stand for anything). As Wikipedia states: "Unitarian Universalists do not share a creed; rather, they are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth. Unitarian Universalists draw on many different theological sources and have a wide range of beliefs and practices." In a world in which people are STILL tortured and murdered for their religious beliefs, I can only say amen.

judith ellis said...

Dave - As I have said before here, I appreciate you sentiment. While this is so, I must also say that many people voted for President-elect Obama because we believe that he is qualified for the job and the best man for it.

One thing was clear from his first news conference, is that he will lead with wisdom and with the collective advice of many advisers and that he hill not be bantered or bullied by the press.

I believe the President-elect will be a leader of great strength and skill. It appears to me that he was born for such a time. But he will need all of us. I'm fired up and ready to go!

judith ellis said...

John - I remember thinking the same thing years ago as I had a friend who attended the Unitarian church. He was a former drug addict and brilliant jazz musician. He was also a bit of an historian who lived in the parsonage of the church.

He was the caretaker. We met at a Christmas gathering at the church where he jazz band played. I would stop by the church occassionally after classes and talk with him. The church was in the center of campus. I met quite a few Unitarians then and got to learn a bit about their denomination. The focus seemed to be non-judgment which is a good thing, as we can not make anyone do anything if they do not wish to do so.

A few months back my aunt called me despondent initially that my cousin had been together with a young woman for about 6 years and now they were having a baby. She gets on well with the girlfriend and her parents, but she had hoped that her grandchildren would be raised in the faith of her grandfather, my paternal great-grandfather.

My great grandfather was a respected preacher, theologian, author, and hymnal composer. He was also a fine artist. When he passed in 1931, after an oversees trip, he was the only African American up until that time who had the entire front page of a major city paper. The state, by the way, had up until last week consistently voted Republican. This time the people voted for a Democrat and an African American.

When I had the conversation with my aunt I asked her, "I know this is your desire, but what can you do about it, not embrace your son and the newborn?" I'd never thought this was an option for her, but I'd thought I'd I go for the gut. She has come around beautifully and loves her first grandchild. I'm emailed chronological pictures of the beautiful one. Really, what can any of us do to change the beliefs or actions of others? All we can do is show love.

Dave Wheeler said...

Judith...people did indeed vote for the President elect for many reasons. The words and rhetoric of the campaign are over. Actions and results will ultimately decide his ability and effectiveness as it has his predecessors. Time will tell if his Presidency is about change or if it's more of the same. I do wish him the best and I will be working for real change...at the community level!

judith ellis said...

Dave - I guess I am perhaps less cyncial and terribly optimistic and hopeful. Even though I did not agree with President Bush on all of his policies, I remained optimistic and never spoke ill of him, realizing that he is our president. This is not to say, however, that I not believe in dissenting voices. I do.

It is most essential that the president have our full support and dissenting voices on policy should come through our representatives for the change needed. (I am not a fan of trashing ANY president, regardless of decisions made.) I was touched by President Bush's speech the other day at the Rose Garden to the White House staff. I was reminded that he is our current president.

In reality, while the president leads, we are all responsible. Besides being the change we wish to see, we should insist upon it at all levels. This is not all the leader's burden alone; the burden for change is also ours.

It seems quite easy to sit back and say what a president should and shouldn't do without being in his shoes and without any personal and collective responsibility beyond Washington. We, myself included, don't even hold our representatives accountable or responsible as we should. The Ted Stevens relection is sickening. A felon can't even vote.

Yes, we will see if change occurs during President-elect Obama's term. But if it doesn't it will be the American people's who have failed as well as the leader. I feel the same way about the Bush terms.

Ours is a government that is BY and FOR the people. We must ALL be fired up and ready to go if, as you say, "real change" is to happen!

Thank you for your comments, Dave.

dave wheeler said...

Judith...less cynical, terribly optimistic, and hopeful are marvelous things! My cynicism is based in the political two party system itself, not the person who was elected.

Real change will indeed REQUIRE the electorate get to involved and engaged in the process to make their elected representatives accountable. Real change would indeed be not trashing ANY President for decisions made and dissenting voices being channeled through elected officials. This would eliminate the endless spin, propaganda fear mongering, conflict and debate that occurs endlessly on all types of media. Real change would be not bailing out industries or companies without removing the very people and changing policies, and programs, and circumstances responsible for their needing bailed out in the first place. This includes Union leaders as well. The list could indeed be endless but again, it's "we the people" who have to lead in this type of reform and change!

judith ellis said...

Bravo, Dave! Thank you. I wrote a piece here, Being GM, which sought to address the bailout problem. I must say that I had more questions than answers. David Porter offers some good suggestions. Yours here are advisable as well.

John O'Leary said...

"The focus seemed to be non-judgment which is a good thing..." Yes, yes, THAT was what bothered me as a teenager about the UU philosophy. As a judgmental, Catholic zealot and proselytizer (I've come a LONG way) I resented (on some level) their inclusiveness. There was nothing there I could fight with. :-)

judith ellis said...

I understand, John. There is also something to say for the path of faith that forever enlightens.