Spending time in the presence of a ‘giant’

Courtney Kueppers, journalism student, with civil rights activist the Rev. Frederick Reese Friday afternoon in his Selma, Ala., home. Photo by Martha Landry.
Courtney Kueppers, journalism student, with civil rights activist the Rev. Frederick Reese Friday afternoon in his Selma, Ala., home. Photo by Martha Landry.

Thursday evening soulful music resounded through Tabernacle Baptist Church in Selma, Ala. The church, made famous in the ’60s as a meeting place for nonviolent student activists, was packed wall to wall.

With a bag full of extra batteries, chargers, pens and notebooks on my back and a camera around my neck I crawled on all fours down the center aisle of the church and made room for myself among my fellow journalists.

Soon after the mass meeting commenced the Rev. Frederick Reese approached the microphone. The man who introduced the 85-year-old civil rights activist said he stands on the shoulders of giants and none is greater Reese.

Reese is among a group of activists commonly called the “Courageous 8” that was responsible for bringing Martin Luther King Jr. to Selma and was heavily active with the Dallas County Voter’s League.

He only spoke briefly that evening but from my spot on the floor I could tell the immense respect surrounding Reese. The next day,  I learned why.

Friday afternoon I sat in the well-lit living room of Reese’s Selma home with two recent UW-Eau Claire journalism grads. We talked with Reese about his involvement in the movement, how he wants to be remembered and his time since Bloody Sunday and the march from Selma to Montgomery.

Friday evening Frederick Reese accepted an award recognizing his part in the civil rights movement from the Freedom Foundation at the organization's Jubilee Rally. Photo by Courtney Kueppers.
Friday evening Frederick Reese accepted an award recognizing his part in the civil rights movement from the Freedom Foundation at the organization’s Jubilee Rally. Photo by Courtney Kueppers.

A few common themes prevailed: Reese, a former school teacher, is a man of strong faith. He told me his spiritual life started when he was a child and he is quick to credit God for all he has done.

It was also clear from our conversation Reese was called to be an activist because he wanted people to be judged for their character, not the color of their skin.

Just before we left his home, Reese — who donned a button on his lapel that read “I was there” with a depiction of the Edmund Pettus Bridge — sang two of the songs common among nonviolent activists.

I had goosebumps then and I have goosebumps as I recall it. It was one of those truly special moments where you pinch yourself to make sure it’s really happening to you. It was obvious we were in the presence of a very humble giant in American History.

— Courtney Kueppers

 

 

 

 

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