*James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister, pastor, and civil rights activist, died from head injuries suffered .from being severely beaten while participating in the Selma Voting Rights Movement.
James Reeb (January 1, 1927 – March 11, 1965) was an American Unitarian Universalist minister and a pastor and civil rights activist in Washington, D.C. While participating in the Selma Voting Rights marches in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, he was beaten severely by white segregationists and died of head injuries two days later in the hospital. He was 38 years old.
Reeb was born on January 1, 1927 in Wichita, Kansas, to Mae (Fox) and Harry Reeb. He was raised in Kansas and Casper, Wyoming. He graduated from St. Olaf College and attended Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey and ordained a Presbyterian ministers after graduation.
A member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Reeb came to Selma to join protests for African American voting rights following the attack by state troopers and sheriff's deputies on nonviolent demonstrators on March 7, 1965. After eating dinner at an integrated restaurant March 9, Reeb and two other Unitarian ministers Reverend Clark Olsen and Reverend Orloff Miller, were attacked and beaten by white men armed with clubs. Several hours elapsed before Reeb was admitted to a Birmingham hospital where doctors performed brain surgery. While Reeb was on his way to the hospital in Birmingham, Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed a press conference lamenting the ‘‘cowardly’’ attack and asking all to pray for his protection. Reeb died two days later. His death resulted in a national outcry against the activities of white racists in the Deep South.
Reeb’s death provoked mourning throughout the country, and tens of thousands held vigils in his honor. President Johnson called Reeb’s widow and father to express his condolences, and on March 15 he invoked Reeb’s memory when he delivered a draft of the Voting Rights Act to Congress.
In April 1965, three white men were indicted for Reeb’s murder; they were acquitted that December. The Voting Rights Act was passed on August 6, 1965.