Home National news Frederick Douglas Reese, Civil Rights icon

Frederick Douglas Reese, Civil Rights icon

by PRIDE Newsdesk
Reese was born in Selma and rose to national prominence as a civil rights leader after the city’s Bloody Sunday, the 1965 march during which 600 people were attacked on the Edmund Pettus Bridge by club-wielding state troopers wearing gas masks.

by Tamara Shiloh

Throughout Selma, Ala., there are streets named Frederick D. Reese Parkway and F.D. Reese. In March of each year, the city hosts F.D. Reese Day. Yet the name Frederick Douglas Reese (1929–2018) is not widely known and doesn’t have its own chapter in history books.

Reese was born in Selma and rose to national prominence as a civil rights leader after the city’s Bloody Sunday, the 1965 march during which 600 people were attacked on the Edmund Pettus Bridge by club-wielding state troopers wearing gas masks. Later that day, marchers gathered at Brown Chapel AME Church.

“I had prayer,” Reese has said. “I had scripture. While in the sanctuary, the telephone rang. It was Dr. King. He said that he would invite ministers to Selma who would come to lend their assistance to the people of Selma. A group had chartered a plane from New Jersey, had flown to Montgomery and got a bus, came to Selma, walked in that church that night, and said ‘we have seen on the television screen what happened across that bridge today, and we have come to lend our bodies and our assistance to the people of Selma.

“That was one of the most exhilarating and inspiring moments of that day.”

Those moments would change Reese’s life.

On March 21 of that same year, Reese would embark on a 50-mile march, from Selma to Montgomery, hand in hand with King. His front-row presence made him a symbol of the civil rights movement, and his impact reached beyond Selma.

Reese was determined to see that all people would have the right to vote. This led him to inspiring teachers from Selma’s Clark Elementary School to stand on the steps of the Dallas County Courthouse. No teachers were allowed to register to vote that day, but the involvement of more than 100 Black teachers ignited a spark in the movement.

“The teachers’ march really excited other people who had taken somewhat of a backseat so to speak,” Reese, in 2015, told The Selma Times-Journal.

Reese’s work throughout the movement was not without accomplishment. It led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and later catapulted his leadership role in Selma, where he served on the city council for a dozen years. He also ran for mayor.

Alabama State University President Quinton T. Ross, Jr. described Reese as “a giant of a man” and a “man of great courage who dared to take a stand against institutionalized racism and segregation in Selma, and by so doing, helped win the right to vote for all of the nation’s African American citizens.”

Learn more about Reese’s front-row presence and how he became a symbol of and leader in the civil rights movement in Kathy M. Walters and Frederick D. Reese’s ‘Selma’s Self-Sacrifice.’ This reading reaches beyond Selma, offering a true testimony of how the movement was affected by history, culture, and society

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