The Reverend James J. Reeb Memoriam marker in Selma, Alabama on July 8, 2018.

The Reverend James J. Reeb Memoriam marker in Selma, Alabama on July 8, 2018.

In 1965, Reverend James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister, was murdered in Selma, Alabama, at the height of the civil rights movement. Three men were tried and acquitted, but no one was ever held accountable.

Martin Luther King Jr. delivered Reeb’s eulogy in Selma. Here’s part of what he said:

James Reeb was murdered by the indifference of every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. He was murdered by the irrelevancy of a church that will stand amid social evil and serve as a taillight rather than a headlight, an echo rather than a voice. He was murdered by the irresponsibility of every politician who has moved down the path of demagoguery, who has fed his constituents the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. He was murdered by the brutality of every sheriff and law enforcement agent who practices lawlessness in the name of the law. He was murdered by the timidity of a federal government that can spend millions of dollars a day to keep troops in South Vietnam yet cannot protect the lives of its own citizens seeking constitutional rights. Yes, he was even murdered by the cowardice of every Negro who tacitly accepts the evil system of segregation, who stands on the sidelines in the midst of a mighty struggle for justice.

So in his death, James Reeb says something to each of us, black and white alike—says that we must substitute courage for caution, says to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered him but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murder. 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.

Fifty years later, NPR‘s investigative podcast White Lies has uncovered new details about the case. We talk with the podcast’s hosts about uncovering a story that says as much about America today as it does about the past.

Show produced by Morgan Givens.

Guests

  • Chip Brantley Co-host, producer, White Lies podcast; lecturer, Journalism and Creative Media, University of Alabama
  • Andrew Beck Grace Co-host and producer, White Lies podcast; instructor, Journalism and Creative Media, University of Alabama; @andrewbeckgrace

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