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New York Times highlights documentary on James Reeb ’50

A photo of James Reeb '50 as shown in a documentary by Andrew Beck Grace.
A photo of James Reeb ’50 as shown in the documentary by filmmaker Andrew Beck Grace.

As St. Olaf College begins hosting a series of events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the voting rights marches, the New York Times has published a moving documentary about the role alumnus James Reeb ’50 played in the civil rights movement.

Reeb, a Boston minister who had answered Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for clergy to march with him in Selma, was one of three clergy members attacked by white supremacists as they were leaving a diner. He died of his injuries two days later.

In the documentary, the Rev. Clark Olsen, one of the two ministers who was with Reeb during the attack, shares his memories of what happened that day — and how it shaped the course of history.

“Thousands of people gathered in various cities — Washington, Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco — and it made headlines all across the country about this attack on a white clergyman,” Olsen says.

“I began to realize that we were the center of attention — that this was a big event.”

On March 15, 1965, four days after Reeb’s death, President Lyndon Johnson invoked his memory — “that good man” — as he introduced the Voting Rights Act to a joint session of Congress.

“I believe that Johnson was moved by the attack on us and by Jim Reeb’s death,” Olsen says. “The president realized that this was the moment to urge passage of the voting rights bill.”

St. Olaf is hosting a series of events, A Long walk Home: 50 Years of Climbing the Hill to Freedom, that pays tribute to the role Reeb and other alumni played in the civil rights movement.

The events include:

  • An art exhibit that documents the Selma-to-Montgomery marches through 45 photographs from the archives of Stephen Somerstein.
  • A discussion with St. Olaf alumni Jeff Strate ’66 and Sheryl Anderson Renslo ’66, the producers of a documentary film titled Alabama Return that chronicles the experiences of 65 St. Olaf students who volunteered for the Tuskegee Institute Summer Education Program in the summer of 1965.
  • Screenings of the Academy Award–nominated film Selma.