Jim Rebb

An excerpt from Morgantown to San Francisco, a book I am working on. And by the way you can get my first five books on amazon.com. They are Imagonna, The Soviet Union and Lincoln County USA, Sarvice Mountain, Cruising the Acropolis, and Damn Yankee Buttons

James Reeb

In my second year as Foreign Student Advisor at West Virginia University, I was dismayed by the televised beatings in Selma and learning of the murders of Unitarian-Universalist member Viola Liuzzo and minister James Reeb. I was disappointed in myself that I had hesitated and not gone to Selma. Al Ulmer, my Peace Corps friend and Florida State University all-American football player, drove Unitarian-Universalist minister, James Reeb, from Atlanta to Selma the day he was murdered. Twenty years after James Reeb’s murder,  Rev. Clark Olsen, who survived that attack, wrote about it in UUAWorld.Com. Here are some excerpts:

Selma was 36 years ago. But 20 years went by before my thoughts began to mature about what happened there—to Jim Reeb, Orloff Miller, and me.

My Selma had been a mixture of anger, fear, sorrow, wonder, and pride. Anger about Jim Reeb’s death, about those who attacked the three of us, and about the Alabama system of justice—including an all-white, all-male jury—that found innocent the three men who had been charged with killing Jim.

Selma was fear, reexperienced fairly often in telling friends or family about the events of that terrible night in Selma: the men coming across the street shouting angry words, carrying a club. Waiting at the clinic while the doctor examined Jim. Fearing Jim’s death as he squeezed my hand more tightly as his head pain increased and before he sank into unconsciousness. Fearing for all of us when our ambulance had a flat tire just after leaving Selma’s city limits on the way to the hospital in Birmingham, and the ambulance radiotelephone wouldn’t work. Especially fearing when a car full of white men pulled up behind us on the country road, then followed us back to town while we drove on the rim of our flat tire, headed for a phone that would bring a replacement ambulance. Fear turned to terror when the car full of men parked next to our waiting ambulance and walked around the ambulance knocking on the windows. I thought that they might bury us in a watery ditch that night, the same kind of ditch where the bodies of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner had recently been found in Mississippi. And fear that Jim would die before we arrived at the Birmingham hospital.

And Selma was sorrow. Sorrow that Jim, “this good man” as President Lyndon B. Johnson called him in his address to Congress, left his family to be in Selma, walked with Orloff and me on that Selma sidewalk in the position, next to the curb, that was most vulnerable to the attackers’ club; that we weren’t able to get help quickly; that he had very little chance, if any, of surviving the blow; and that his wife and children had to deal with this terrible blow to them as well.

Wonder and pride were also part of my Selma mixture. Wonder, or amazement, at the media attention, at the sight, in the hospital, of President Johnson’s gift of yellow roses, and at his dispatch of a presidential aircraft to bring Marie Reeb and Jim’s father to Birmingham before Jim’s body gave out. Amazement that Jim’s martyrdom apparently moved President Johnson to urge Congress to pass the Voting Rights Bill.

In response to Jimmy Lee Jackson’s death, Johnson had received no phone calls; in response to Jim Reeb’s death, the President had gotten 57 calls.

The murder of a young black man had provoked little attention. The murder of a white clergyman had moved the President and Congress to action. Surely that was a stark lesson about the problem of race in America.


On March 11, 2011, 46 years after Reeb’s death, the Anniston Star reported that the FBI is investigating the case. The bigot, who wielded the club that killed Jim Reeb, was sentenced to six months in prison.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to Amazon.com to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (wvhighlands.org), and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation (ksff.org). I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at martinjul@aol.com or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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