We Shall Overcome: March 15, 1965

“At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama. There, long-suffering men and women peacefully protested the denial of their rights as Americans. Many were brutally assaulted. One good man, a man of God, was killed.”  President Lyndon Johnson

The road of life can be treacherous when injustice and prejudice rear their ugly heads.  So it was in March 1965 a group of civil rights activists decided to organize a march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama.

This was a dangerous time in America, especially for the black man and any white man who supported equal rights for both.  On February 26, 1965 Deacon Jimmie Lee Jackson, a 27-year-old black man, died from gunshot and beating wounds while protecting his mother and grandfather on February 18 during a church protest march in Marion, Alabama.

This tragic death caused few headlines across the country.  However, his death gave impetus to the Selma to Montgomery march.

James Reeb, a white pastor, journeyed from his Unitarian Universalist Church in Boston to Selma. He joined the protesters.

On March 9 the peaceful protesters were attacked by a group of white men. Pastor Reeb was badly beaten and died on March 11.  He was 38.

News media told of the shocking death of James Reeb by the hand of angry white men.  There was a public outcry.

On March 15 a memorial service for James Reeb began in Brown Chapel, Selma. Around 3 pm Martin Luther King, Jr. arrived to give the eulogy.

The haunting question which Dr. King pounded, “Who killed James Reeb?” was rhetorical, but Dr. King answered, “A few ignorant men.”

His next question was more an indictment, “What killed James Reeb?” He gave the answer, “An irrelevant church, an indifferent clergy, an irresponsible political system, a corrupt law enforcement hierarchy, a timid federal government, and an uncommitted Negro population…”

Later that night President Lyndon Johnson went before a joint session of Congress to address the nation.  His speech was titled, “We Shall Overcome.”

The tragic events in Selma and other incidents greatly troubled this US President from Texas.  He spoke eloquently and passionately about the plight of the black man and woman and their struggle for freedom.

For Americans March 15 is a day when a few good men and women united to bring about a change in American society where all people would be equal.  This struggle would be hard and bloody.  Many would lose their lives in the process.

Has equality been achieved?  Not fully, but the struggle for equality of all men and women in this country continues against those who hide behind their religious dogma, ignorance and prejudice. Who deny basic rights to anyone they deem unfit because of creed, skin color or lifestyle.

These rivers of racism rage about us. To calm these rivers requires our need to embrace the simple fact of where we came from as a race of humans.

We all share the same planet traversing the cosmos.  We are all interconnected since we are brothers and sisters of the same origin. Regardless of your belief about origins, we share the same ancestry, the same first parents, and the same genome.

On the road of life you must fight for justice for all.  For without justice for all what value does your life have on the scales of eternity?

These are the enemies: poverty, ignorance, disease. They’re our enemies, not our fellow man, not our neighbor. And these enemies too—poverty, disease, and ignorance: we shall overcome.

And somehow you never forget what poverty and hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child.” President Johnson


G. D. Williams       © 2012



WE SHALL OVERCOME: Morehouse College


WE SHALL OVERCOME: President Lyndon Johnson