Fifty years ago today, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave the eulogy at the funeral of Rev. James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister who came to Alabama in response to King’s call for clergy to stand up for racial justice. He was murdered in Selma outside a cafe, where he was walking with two other UU ministers.
The text of the eulogy is now available (PDF), and it is as expected a textbook example of King’s grasp of imagery and lyricism.
King expertly transforms Reeb’s death from a single crime to a structural injustice by moving from who killed James Reeb, as what killed James Reeb.
It is a fitting eulogy to a UU minister. Those with true religious courage and spirit leave their churches, temples, and places of worship, to speak truth and stand for justice. The Civil Rights Movement needed real tangible support, not idle words. Those that died in Selma saw religious obligation existing at the frontlines.