Rhetoric, Religion and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965

By Davis W. Houck; David E. Dixon | Go to book overview

§119 Reverend Duncan Howlett

On the evening of March 9, 1965, three Unitarian ministers: Orloff Miller, Clark Olsen, and James Reeb were walking from Walker’s Café in Selma, Alabama to Brown Chapel AME Church. The men were in Selma in response to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call for clergy to participate in the march to Montgomery. Each of the men had witnessed the brutal and unprovoked assault on the Edmund Pettus Bridge just two days prior. As the clergymen passed the Silver Moon Café, several whites assaulted them from behind. Reeb was struck in the back of the head by a baseball bat. Two days later, the 38-year old minister was dead. He left behind a wife and four children. Less than a week later, Lyndon B. Johnson, in his famous March 15th Voting Rights Address praised his efforts. King also praised Reeb in a eulogy, but he also used the occasion to blister the church, stating, “James Reeb was murdered by the indifference of every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained glass windows. He was murdered by the irrelevancy of a church that will stand amid social evil and serve as a taillight rather than a headlight, an echo rather than a voice.”

Reeb was born on New Year’s Day, 1927 and grew up in Colorado. After graduating from St. Olaf College, Reeb attended Princeton Theological Seminary. Upon converting from Presbyterianism to Unitarianism, Reeb served until 1964 as assistant minister under Duncan Howlett at All Souls Church in Washington, D.C. So strong was his affection for Reeb that, following Reeb’s death, Howlett immediately went to work on a biography, No Greater Love: The James Reeb Story, which was published by Harper & Row in 1966. At the time of his death, Reeb was working for the American Friends Service Committee in Boston in the area of urban housing. The men who killed Reeb and assaulted Miller and Olsen, Elmer Cook, Stanley Hoggle, and O’Neal Hoggle were acquitted in April after jurors took 90 minutes to reach their verdict.

Reverend Duncan Howlett’s biography appears at the introduction to his March 12, 1961 speech in Lynchburg, Virginia. Just four days after Reeb’s death, Howlett preached the following sermon at All Souls. It is less a eulogy to Reeb and more a condemnation of George Wallace and law enforcement officials. Even as Howlett levels his opprobrium at the Alabama Governor and Al Lingo, his sermon also emphasizes that “the wind has changed.” In Alabama and Mississippi white people are “beginning to see that change is here.” Whether that change had been induced by the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, economically driven boycotts, or a deep sense of shame at witnessing the brutal violence, white southerners were now aware that the lid of secrecy had been lifted. Perhaps more importantly, Howlett reveals his keen understanding of the visual: the “whole civil rights movement” had been reduced to but one thing, “We are exposing to the eyes of the nation and the world the subjection in which the American Negro has been held by the American people.… We lay it bare that we may cut it away. We bring it into the light of day to eliminate it. We reveal it to destroy it forever.” Howlett closes the sermon by rephrasing parts of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to glimpse a future in which blacks will be free citizens of full stature.

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Rhetoric, Religion and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Rhetoric, Religion and the Civil Rights Movement v
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xv
  • Introduction 1
  • 1954 17
  • 1954 - §1 Dr. Mordecai Wyatt Johnson 19
  • §2 Charles P. Bowles 31
  • §3 Reverend A. Powell Davies 36
  • §4 Frank P. Graham 42
  • §5 Mary Mcleod Bethune 49
  • §6 Dr. Benjamin E. Mays 55
  • §7 Dr. J. R. Brokhoff 65
  • §8 William Lloyd Imes 71
  • 1955 77
  • 1955 - §9 Sarah Patton Boyle 79
  • §10 Sarah Patton Boyle 82
  • §11 William Lloyd Imes 87
  • §12 Dr. James Hudson 93
  • §13 Mary Mcleod Bethune 96
  • §14 Roy Wilkins 99
  • §15 Albert D’orlando 107
  • §16 Dr. T. R. M. Howard 116
  • §17 Mamie Till-Bradley 131
  • §18 Reverend Robbins Ralph 145
  • §19 Sarah Patton Boyle 150
  • 1956 155
  • 1956 - §20 Branch Rickey 157
  • §21 Reverend Paul N. Carnes 166
  • §22 Dr. J. R. Brokhoff 172
  • §23 Horace Mann Bond 178
  • §24 Dr. James Hudson 187
  • §25 Dr. T. R. M. Howard 192
  • §26 Roy Wilkins 196
  • §27 Reverend D. Perry Ginn 202
  • 1957 207
  • 1957 - §28 P. D. East 209
  • §29 Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr 216
  • §30 Reverend James A. Pike 224
  • §31 Dr. Mordecai Wyatt Johnson 239
  • §32 Representative Adam Clayton Powell 243
  • §33 A. Philip Randolph 246
  • §34 Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth 250
  • §35 Dr. Channing H. Tobias 256
  • §36 Shad Polier 266
  • §37 Reverend Marion A. Boggs 270
  • §38 Reverend A. Powell Davies 277
  • §39 Marion A. Wright 284
  • 1958 293
  • 1958 - §40 Reverend James R. Bullock 295
  • §41 Dr. J. R. Brokhoff 302
  • §42 Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth 308
  • 1959 313
  • 1959 - §43 Chester Bowles 315
  • §44 Rabbi Max D. Davidson 325
  • §45 Reverend Colbert S. Cartwright 327
  • §46 Reverend Carlos E. Martin 333
  • §47 Reverend Edward Hughes Pruden 340
  • 1960 345
  • 1960 - §48 Governor Leroy Collins 347
  • §49 Reverend James Lawson 356
  • §50 Everett Tilson 362
  • §51 Dr. Benjamin E. Mays 368
  • §52 Dr. Frank P. Graham 377
  • §53 Reverend Edler Garnet Hawkins 382
  • §54 Reverend Will D. Campbell 385
  • §55 Leroy Collins 397
  • 1961 403
  • 1961 - §56 Dr. Haywood N. Hill 405
  • §57 Colbert S. Cartwright 408
  • §58 Reverend William O. Byrd 412
  • §59 Robert J. Mccracken 417
  • §60 Reverend Duncan Howlett 421
  • §61 Rev. Ralph David Abernathy 430
  • §62 Marion A. Wrigth 437
  • §63 James Mcbride Dabbs 445
  • 1962 455
  • 1962 - §64 Heslip “happy” Lee 457
  • §65 Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth 464
  • §66 Robert H. Walkup 468
  • §67 Robert H. Walkup 472
  • §68 Charles L. Stanford, Jr 476
  • §69 Reverend Duncan M. Gray, Jr 478
  • §70 Reverend George A. Chauncey 483
  • §71 James Mcbride Dabbs 489
  • §72 James Mcbride Dabbs 502
  • §73 Marion King 510
  • 1963 513
  • 1963 - §74 Reverend J. Claude Evans 515
  • §75 Reverend James A. Pike 522
  • §76 Edler Garnet Hawkins 527
  • §77 Reverend Wyatt Tee Walker 533
  • §78 Reverend J. V. Cosby Summerell 543
  • §79 James Bevel 547
  • §80 Bruce William Klunder 559
  • §81 Eugene Carson Blake 566
  • §82 Francis Gerald Ensley 574
  • §83 Eugene Carson Blake 581
  • §84 Archbishop Patrick O’boyle 583
  • §85 John Lewis 584
  • §86 Charles Morgan, Jr 587
  • §87 Reverend George H. Woodard 591
  • §88 Dick Gregory 596
  • §89 Dr. Arthur E. Shelton 622
  • §90 Frank T. Wilson 627
  • §91 Dave Dennis 631
  • §92 Dave Dennis 634
  • §93 Dr. Aaron Henry 637
  • §94 James Mcbride Dabbs 647
  • §95 Reverend Duncan Howlett 656
  • §96 David G. Colwell 662
  • §97 Robert W. Spike 667
  • §98 Reverend Lawrence Campbell 676
  • 1964 684
  • 1964 - §99 Ella Josephine Baker 685
  • §100 Reverend Edward W. Harris 688
  • §101 Reverend L. Wilson Kilgore 698
  • §102 Reverend Duncan Howlett 705
  • §103 James Mcbride Dabbs 713
  • §104 Mildred Bell Johnson 719
  • §105 Ralph David Abernathy 729
  • §106 Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth 738
  • §107 Thomas Merton 743
  • §108 Robert W. Spike 752
  • §109 Albert D’orlando 758
  • §110 Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth 766
  • §111 Robert W. Spike 768
  • §112 Dave Dennis and Reverend Edwin King 774
  • §113 Fannie Lou Hamer 784
  • §114 Father Theodore M. Hesburgh 794
  • §115 Reverend Robert J. Mccracken 813
  • 1965 819
  • 1965 - §116 Kelly Miller Smith 821
  • §117 Hearings before the United States Commission on Civil Rights 826
  • §118 Charles F. Wittenstein 852
  • §119 Reverend Duncan Howlett 857
  • §120 Albert D’orlando 865
  • §121 Roy Wilkins 871
  • §122 Robert A. Reed 873
  • §123 Reverend Duncan Howlett 877
  • §124 Morris B. Abram 884
  • §125 Jonathan Daniels 891
  • §126 Daniel Berrigan 898
  • §127 Reverend Ralph David Abernathy 902
  • §128 Kelly Miller Smith 908
  • §129 Gardner C. Taylor 914
  • §130 Theodore Parker Ferris 919
  • Bibliography 925
  • Index 971
  • Permissions Acknowledgments 997
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