Teachers, students, staff, even the Newton County Sheriff's Office deputy on duty at Cousins Middle School snapped photos, excited to meet the 86-year-old Civil Rights activist who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, met Rosa Parks, and worked with Amelia Boynton Robinson, a fellow member of the Dallas County (Alabama) Voters League (DCVL) in Selma, Alabama.
In fact, Rev. Dr. Frederick Douglas Reese told students, he was the person who signed the invitation to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and King asking them join the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday, March 7, 1965. At the time, Reese, a teacher, was president of and a member of the DCVL steering committee, known as the Courageous Eight.
It was the first of the Selma marches, held between March 7 and March 25. At the time of the marches, less than 3 percent of African-Americans were registered to vote in Dallas County, Alabama. The story of the marches are told in the 2014 film, Selma, parts of which filmed in Covington. In the movie, Reese was portrayed by E. Roger Mitchell.
Recently retired from a 51-year term as a minister at Selma’s Ebeneezer Baptist Church, Reese visited the school after meeting sixth-grade-student Eva Fuhrey. Fuhrey had met Reese when she and her family had gone to the church in Alabama. She was working on a project about the march for Black History month.
Alabama state troopers and local police blocked the protestors, threw tear gas into the crowd and began beating people with billy clubs. The event became known as Bloody Sunday, a subject sixth-grade student Feria Kendra Jones studied as part of her project for Black History month.
The violence and the protestors nonviolent response was broadcast nationwide, which influenced President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act in August that year, a topic Ladagia Briney studied for her project.
Sharing what they learned
Three sixth-grade students, Fuhrey, Jones and Briney shared their research with Reese and fellow sixth-graders on Tuesday. The three classes had gathered in the school’s media library to meet one of the leaders known as the “Courageous Eight,” the members of the Dallas County Voters League. In return, Reese shared his experiences and why the work of the Civil Rights leaders was important.
Later, other grade-level classes were able to meet and ask questions of Reese.
Reese told the students, in response to questions, that marching with King made him “feel you were a part of a group of people who wanted the same thing – rights for all people, regardless of the color of the skin or where they were from.
“We marched together, we went to jail together, we suffered together,” he said. “We challenged those things we felt were wrong, so we moved forward ready and willing [to face the] consequences we might endure.”
Marching with King
Reese told the students that he was not afraid when state and local law enforcement got violent because the Civil Rights movement was about getting human rights for everyone, regardless of the color of their skin or their place of origin, so all people could take part in a political process that governed their lives.
Later, King called Reese with news that he was organizing a march for March 21 involving ministers from all over the country. Reese marched hand-in-hand with King on March 21, 1965, as more than 50,000 people marched the 50 miles from Selma to Montgomery. His front row presence made him a symbol of and leader in the Civil Rights Movement.
Fuhrey, Jones and Briney said, later, that learning about Reese and the Civil Rights movement was an inspiration.
For Fuhrey, meeting Reese and studying the Civil Rights movement “surprised me to learn how hard they worked for their rights.” She also said she was shocked at how badly people were treated by those in power.
“I was inspired by Dr. Reese,” said Jones. “It inspired me to take a stand because I know if he did it, I could, too.”
Recently, Briney said, she saw a Congress on Racial Relations (CORR) Federation flag flying, and said it made her sad because “slavery [human trafficking] is still going on. I want to say something about it, but it’s hard.”