Frederick D. Reese was born on November 28, 1929, in Dallas County, Alabama. Reese rose to national prominence as a civil rights leader after Selma's "Bloody Sunday." He later marched with Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery as an advocate of African-American voter registration rights.
Frederick D. Reese was born on November 28, 1929, in Dallas County, Alabama. Reese graduated from Alabama State University and Livingston University. He also studied at the University of Alabama, Southern University and Auburn University before receiving his doctorate of divinity from Selma University.
By the mid-1960s, Reese was the president of the Dallas County Voter's League and a teacher who presided over the Selma Teachers Association. Discouraged by Selma's efforts to hinder voter registration for African Americans, Reese advocated that teachers press the issue. Reese invited Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference to lead Selma's voting rights protest. King's staff helped organize months of demonstrations.
'Bloody Sunday' and the March to Montgomery
On March 7, 1965, Reese and more than 600 other activists marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The day would live in infamy as "Bloody Sunday" after protestors were beaten and sprayed with tear gas per the orders of Alabama Governor George Wallace.
Following the violence that day, the majority of the marchers congregated at the Brown Chapel AME Church, where Reese spoke to the crowd. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. called Reese from Atlanta with news that he was organizing a march involving ministers from all over the country. On March 21, 1965, more than 50,000 people marched the 50 miles from Selma's Brown Chapel AME Church to Alabama's state capitol, Montgomery. Reese marched hand-in-hand with King, and his front-row presence made him a symbol of and leader in the Civil Rights Movement.
The event would prompt president Lyndon B. Johnson to ratify the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. The law worked to undo state-sanctioned obstacles that prevented African Americans from registering to vote, especially in the South.
Academic and Political Career and Legacy
Despite the national attention he received, Reese remained committed to education. He became a principal and a city councilman, serving 12 years on the Selma City Council. He also ran for mayor in 1984, though he was defeated by Joe Smitherman, and led a campaign to motivate Wal-Mart executives to hire African Americans as store managers.
In 2000, in honor of his civil rights work, a stretch of more than three miles of U.S. Route 80, where he marched to Montgomery, was named the Frederick D. Reese Parkway. The F.D. Reese Christian Academy in Kokomo, Indiana, was also dedicated to him.
Reese has been the pastor of Selma's Ebenezer Baptist Church since 1965. Although he is retired from teaching, he still works as a Baptist minister and delivers a sermon to his congregation each week.
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