St. Olaf College | News

St. Olaf celebrates civil rights icon James Reeb ’50

St. Olaf College President David R. Anderson ’74 (left), Leah Reeb (center) and Anne Reeb enjoy a lighter moment during the dedication of a memorial for James Reeb ’50.

“A bucolic campus in Minnesota is a long way from a bridge in Alabama, but they are tightly bound by a man named James Reeb,” begins a KMSP-TV news story about the St. Olaf College alumnus who went to Selma to march with Martin Luther King Jr.

It was there, 50 years ago this week, that Reeb — a 1950 graduate of St. Olaf who marched onto the Edmund Pettus Bridge with thousands of clergy members on what became known as “Turnaround Tuesday” — was beaten by white supremacists as he and two other ministers were leaving 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 new Academy Award-nominated film Selma.

“Fifty years after Selma,” notes a WCCO-TV news story, “Reeb is remembered by his alma mater.”

St. Olaf hosted a daylong commemoration of Reeb’s legacy March 12 that included the dedication of a memorial near the entrance of Rolvaag Library. His daughter Anne and granddaughter Leah were on campus to speak about the role he played in the voting rights movement and how they honor the legacy of his work toward civil and human rights today.

“I think that you can take the story of my grandfather and you can tell it today and you can teach the youth of this country about what he did and what he lived for,” Leah Reeb tells the CBS affiliate.

Anne Reeb believes 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 tells reporter Reg Chapman.

A Flaten Art Museum exhibit that documents the Selma-to-Montgomery march through 45 photographs from the archives of Stephen Somerstein will be open until April 12.

The photographs in the exhibit, titled Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail, reveal the nonviolent discipline of the marchers and movement’s leaders, and depict the Alabama onlookers who found themselves at the heart of a national battle.