Adar Cohen and Steve Fiffer spent the last two years researching the lives and untimely deaths of Jimmie Lee Jackson and the Reverend James Reeb during the days leading up to the Selma marches. In May and June, the two will present a series of talks and discussion
of their new book, “Jimmy Lee and James: Two Lives, Two Deaths, and the Movement That Changed America” in a series of talks in Evanston, Winnetka and Chicago.
These two Evanston residents tell the story of the struggle for voting rights and the Selma-to-Montgomery marches by focusing on two martyrs, Mr. Jackson and Rev. Reeb. Mr. Jackson, a 26-year-old African American pulpwood chopper and church deacon, was shot to death by an Alabama state trooper in February 1965 after a peaceful protest. Mr. Reeb, a 38-year-old white Unitarian minister turned community organizer, was beaten to death by white vigilantes in Selma in March 1965.
The death of Mr. Jackson inspired local civil rights leaders to make the march to Montgomery. After the first attempt on March 7 – “Bloody Sunday” – ended in police violence, the call went out to activists across the nation to join in the next effort on March 9. Rev. Reeb and many Unitarians, along with clergy of other faiths, came to Selma.
Four days after Rev. Reeb’s death, President Lyndon Johnson evoked his memory when he brought voting rights legislation to Congress. The national outcry over these two brutal killings ensured its passage.
Most histories of the civil rights movement note these two deaths briefly, before moving on to the more famous moments of the struggle. Mr. Fiffer and Dr. Cohen traveled to Alabama, interviewed leaders and foot soldiers of the struggle, and obtained rarely seen FBI files and diaries from the period. During this writing, events in Ferguson, Mo., Staten Island, N.Y. and other cities echoed the turmoil of 1965; current erosions of voting rights threaten the progress that has been made.
Julian Bond, president emeritus of the NAACP, says, “In ‘Jimmie Lee and James,’ Steve Fiffer and Adar Cohen bring to life a watershed moment in our nation’s history. This is a must-read for all who care about the fight for civil rights and the right to vote, then and now.”
In this, the 50th anniversary year of the marches and the Voting Rights Act, the general public is invited to join the authors for a behind-the-scenes look at the civil rights movement, then and now. The authors will speak, answer questions, and sign books available for sale. A portion of the sale proceeds will be used to buy additional books that will be donated to inner city high school libraries and to the Southern Law Poverty Center.