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NPR podcast examines murder of civil rights icon James Reeb ’50

In March 1965, St. Olaf College alumnus James Reeb ’50 answered Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for clergy to march with him in Selma, Alabama.

Shortly after arriving in Selma, Reeb — a minister and civil rights activist from Boston — was attacked by white supremacists as he left a diner. He died from his injuries two days later.

Reeb’s death inspired a wave of nationwide protests and served as a catalyst for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a fact noted in the Academy Award–nominated film Selma.

Yet the three men tried for his murder were acquitted, and the city’s white community buried the truth. To this day, no one has ever been held accountable for Reeb’s murder.

More than 50 years after the attack, National Public Radio returned to Selma to look at why the truth about Reeb’s murder had been so obscured and why so many people were intent on keeping it that way.

A tribute to James Reeb ’50 stands near a mural in Selma. Photo by William Widmer for NPR.

In the resulting podcast, White Lies, co-hosts Andrew Beck Grace and Chip Brantley “expose the lies that kept the murder from being solved and uncover a story about guilt, memory, and justice that says as much about America today as it does about the past. In a place where lies and silence conspire against them, Brantley and Grace search Selma for living witnesses, guided by an unredacted copy of an old FBI file. They meet people who know the truth about the murder but have lied for decades — until now.”

For a visual narrative of NPR’s investigation into the murder of James Reeb and its aftermath, visit

During a commemoration of Reeb’s legacy held on campus in 2015 — 50 years after his death — his daughter Anne said she believed her father would be proud but not satisfied about the progress the nation has made toward inclusive civil rights.

“I think my father would say the work isn’t over, the work is not done,” she said.