He was an associate minister at the Unitarian Universalist church from 1959 until 1964 after which Rev. James Reeb moved to Boston to work on housing issues with a Quaker non-profit. Previously, he was the chaplain, a strict Presbyterian, at Philadelphia General Hospital.
“His theology had told him that if people were suffering, that it was God’s punishment for their sins. But this judging voice was at war with another voice inside him which said, ‘These are your brothers and sisters.'” Rev. Rob Hardies, pastor at All Souls Church Unitarian
In 1965 Martin Luther King, Jr. called for the nation’s clergy to join civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama. March 9th was later called ‘Turnaround Tuesday” as Dr. King led the marchers onto Edmund Pettus Bridge, said a short prayer, then turned back. He asked the clergy to stay in Selma should there be another march. Rev. Reeb was one of those clergymen who decided to stay.
That night after dinner with two other ministers, Rev. James Reeb was attacked by a group of four white men of whom one was carrying a club. Recalling the incident 50 years later, Rev. Clark Olsen said, “Four men came at us from across the street…..one of them was carrying a club and swung it at Jim’s head.
James Reeb died two days after the attack having lapsed into a coma from his head injuries. Dr. King preached the eulogy, and hours later, President Johnson mentioned his death when he introduced the Voting Rights Act to Congress saying, “Many were brutally assaulted; one good man, a man of God, was killed.”
“He wanted to do good in the world and right some of the wrongs in our society.” Rev. Clark Olsen
The three men charged in the assault were acquitted by an all-white jury after just 95 minutes of deliberation.