James Reeb

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Reeb, James (1 January 1927 - 11 March 1965)

Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister, was murdered in 1965 in Selma, Alabama, while working in a civil rights protest organized by Martin Luther King Jr.

He was born in Wichita, Kansas, but his father's inability to find work led the family to move often. When he became a teenager, the family had moved to Colorado. Here, he was taunted because of his being cross-eyed, and despite the family's poverty he was able to obtain corrective surgery.

Reeb served during World War II, then studied at St. Olaf College and Princeton Theological Seminary. He secured a position as a chaplain at a Philadelphia hospital, then worked with inner-city youth at a YMCA, then became a Unitarian minister for five years in a poor black neighborhood in Washington, D.C., where he lived with his wife and four children. At the time of his death, he was an Assistant Minister at All Souls Church in Washington, D.C.

A member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), as a 38-year-old Reeb in 1965 marched in a Selma to Montgomery protest march. In Selma he was attacked by a white mob that was armed with clubs, and he died of massive blows to his head. President Lyndon B. Johnson described the Selma events as "an American tragedy" that should lead to bringing "full and equal and exact justice to all of our people." Johnson's proposal concerning voting rights reached Congress the Monday after Reeb's death.

Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a eulogy for Reeb, words adapted from a journal kept by the Rev. Richard D. Leonard.

An account of Reeb's life is found in Duncan Howlett’s No Greater Love: The James Reeb Story (1966).

Orloff W. Miller, in a 26 January 2003 address to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Paris, France, described Reeb's death and his telling Mrs. Reeb, "Jim was the right man, at the right place, at the right time."