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James Bevel, 1936-2008

James Bevel

James Bevel was born in Itta Bena, MS, in 1936. He was a member of the Nashville Student Movement in 1961, and rode the first bus of Freedom Riders into Jackson on May 24. After bailing out, he began recruiting future Riders in Jackson, and set up a CORE office there. He went on to plan some of the movement’s major campaigns.

From the Washington Post‘s obituary:

The Rev. James L. Bevel, 72, a fiery top lieutenant of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a force behind civil rights campaigns of the 1960s whose erratic behavior and conviction on incest charges tarnished his legacy, died in Virginia on Dec. 19 of pancreatic cancer. . . .

“Jim Bevel was Martin Luther King’s most influential aide,” said civil rights historian David J. Garrow. He cited Rev. Bevel’s “decisive influence” on the Birmingham “children’s crusade” of 1963 that helped revive the movement, the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 and King’s increased outspokenness against the Vietnam War.

Read the rest.

1 Comment

The most common mistake so far regarding James Bevel’s 1960s activities is labeling him an “aide” or “lieutenant” of Dr. King’s. King and Bevel worked on an equal footing during the five main years of their association, an equality reached in their historic 1962 meeting which brought Bevel, the leader of the student movements, into the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. As Rev. Bevel’s biographer, I worked with Bevel’s history for the last 26 years of his lifetime, and this meeting and the Bevel-King agreement was discussed and researched during those decades.

When James Bevel agreed to join King and SCLC, King and he agreed that they’d both work on ending segregation and obtaining voting rights, that they would not compromise in this endeavor, nor accept funding unless they were working on a movement. Bevel, who knew how to initiate, direct, and organize movements, would take over the roles with which he was soon given formal title – Director of Direct Action and Director of Nonviolent Education – the two key organizational roles in the ’60s movements. During the next several years he initiated, directed, organized and successfully accomplished the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade, the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Movement, and the 1966 Chicago Open Housing Movement. He also initiated the March on Washington (which, after his actions detailed elsewhere, only later became the March in Washington of August, 1963) and initiated and directed the march from Selma to Montgomery. In every one of these actions he, at the key planning and strategic moments, either bypassed objections of all of SCLC’s other leaders or brought them over to his way of thinking. James Bevel, rather than an “aide”, was arguably and easily proven to be one of the two key people, along with Dr. King, needed for the successes “won” during the 1960s Civil Rights era.
Randy Kryn, 23 January, 2011

Posted by Randy Kryn on 23 January 2011 @ 10am