- NAME: James Bevel
- OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, Songwriter, Minister
- BIRTH DATE: October 19, 1936
- DEATH DATE: December 19, 2008
- EDUCATION: American Baptist Theology Seminary
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Itta Bena, Mississippi
- PLACE OF DEATH: Springfield, Virginia
- Full Name: James Luther Bevel
- AKA: James L. Bevel
- AKA: James Bevel
Best Known For
James Bevel was a civil rights activist who worked with Martin Luther King Jr. In 2008, Bevel was convicted of committing incest with one of his daughters.
Children’s Crusade of 1963 (4:12)
Civil Rights Foot Soldiers (4:09)
Bloody Sunday (4:04)
From May 2 to May 5, 1963, thousands of children left their schools in Birmingham, Alabama, to march for civil rights. Police officers responded by using water cannons and dogs to attack and then arrest the children.
They will never get their names in the history books, yet the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights movement changed history for the better through their unsung acts of courage.
On March 7, 1965 around 600 people crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in an attempt to begin the Selma to Montgomery march. State troopers violently attacked the peaceful demonstrators in an attempt to stop the march for voting rights.
On Sunday, March 21, 1965, nearly 8,000 people began the five-day march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights.
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James Bevel was born in Itta Bena, Mississippi, in 1936. He became a civil rights activist, and helped set up 1963's "children's crusade" in Birmingham, Alabama—a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. He left the Southern Christian Leadership Conference after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Bevel was convicted of incest in 2008. He died in Springfield, Virginia, later that same year.
"I guess by '63 we were pretty confident that we had developed a science that would allow us to eradicate segregation in that it was incongruent, you know with the basic tenant of our Constitution."
"I'm very proud to be the daughter of a man who contributed so much to the world through his civil rights work. I am equally devastated and disgusted by his pedophilia."
James Luther Bevel was born on October 19, 1936, in the rural town of Itta Bena, in central Mississippi. He shared his parents' home with 16 siblings. Growing up, James Bevel spent time working in the steel mills of Cleveland, Ohio. He also served a brief stint in the U.S. Naval Reserve, joining in 1954 and leaving in 1955.
While working as a singer, Bevel felt called to another path. He became a Baptist minister in 1959. He also started studying at the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee.
After learning about nonviolent methods of social activism at Tennessee's Highlander Folk School and taking a student activist training course, Bevel began staging sit-in protests against segregated Nashville businesses. Along with John Lewis and Diane Nash, Bevel became a leading activist in the Nashville student movement, and helped found a civil rights group called the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960.
Bevel and Nash married in 1961, the same year that he graduated from seminary school. The following year, the couple left Nashville for Albany, Georgia. There, they continued to fight against racial prejudice and the segregation of African Americans.
In 1963, Bevel became a director for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization headed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He convinced King to allow students to participate in protest marches in Birmingham, Alabama, demonstrations that became known as the "children's crusade." Seeing African-American children be struck and arrested by police was instrumental in prompting greater public support for the entire Civil Rights Movement.
After moving to Chicago, Bevel still worked to spread the principles of nonviolent activism. He also extended his support to the anti-war movement, pushing King to speak out against the Vietnam War. Bevel continued to work closely with King, and was with him in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968—the day of King's assassination.
After King's death, Bevel remained with the SCLC for a time. However, he also began to tell people that James Earl Ray—the man convicted of killing King—was not the real assassin. Other upsetting episodes followed, such as Bevel coming up with a test of loyalty that consisted of making people drink his urine. Ultimately, the organization cut ties with Bevel.
During the 1980s, Bevel's politics veered toward the Republican Party. He became a supporter of Ronald Reagan's campaign for the presidency and a critic of affirmative action. He also worked with fringe presidential contender Lyndon LaRouche, joining his ticket as the vice presidential candidate in 1992. Bevel's activism additionally involved assisting Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan with 1995's Million Man March.
Visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BRCI), a museum, research center and teaching facility in Birmingham, Alabama. BRCI is dedicated to documenting the American Civil Rights Movement, and promoting civil and human rights worldwide through education.
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