James Bevel and his pivotal role in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement

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posted on May, 2 2013 @ 09:27 AM
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James Bevel may be the most important civil rights activist in the 20th century that you've never heard of. He seems to have been the main leader of the student movement, and then partnered with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1962 on an equal basis. Holding the powerful titles of Director of Direct Action and Director of Nonviolent Education of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Bevel initiated, directed, and carried out the 1963 Birmingham Children's Crusade (today and tomorrow are the 50th anniversary of the two days in which over 1,600 young high school students marched out of a church, were arrested, and then, when the jails and outdoor holding-pens overflowed, were finally set upon by dogs and water hoses), called the March on Washington (which was initially meant to be a march up the highways from Birmingham to Washington by the young Birmingham protesters to speak to President Kennedy about segregation), initiated and directed the actions which became the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Movement (which he also planned and directed), called and organized the march from Selma-to-Montgomery, initiated and directed the Chicago Open Housing Movement of 1966, ran and inititated the first very large anti-Vietnam war protest (the 1967 March on the United Nations), and in 1995 teamed up with Minister Louis Farakhan to initiate the Million Man March.

Yet when he died, disgraced after a conviction for incest in 2008 (the incident occurred in 1993, and Bevel said he was innocent), he was almost as unknown as he was in the 1960s. When he is mentioned at all in the old books he is usually portrayed as an aide to Dr. King, although he actually joined SCLC after leading the student movement (he ran SNCC's Open Theater Movement, was a key participant in the Nashville Sit-in's and the Freedom Ride, and initiated and ran much of the activity in the Mississippi Freedom Movement), with the agreement that King and he would act as equals with neither having veto power over the other.

My question: why isn't Bevel well known? Dr. King has a day named after him, a monument on the United States' National Mall in Washington D.C., and you can't travel in any major American city without finding King highways and streets and schools. Bevel isn't even listed on the Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia. (in the following picture Bevel is sitting on Dr. King's right)



Bevel seems to have made some odd choices late in life. He got mixed up with the moonies and LaRouchies (he actually was Lyndon LaRouche's vice presidential running mate in the 1992 Democratic primaries, even though he ran for congress as a Republican in 1984), and then the incest conviction marred his legacy. But up until 1992 he had nothing but the pivotal legacy from the 1960s Movements, but he was still basically ignored in the major media.

Was the reason this happened centered on the status quo impression that Dr. King did everything, and that the public and media think that movements have to be portrayed by a single face? James Bevel was the initiator, strategist, and director of the main events of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King was chairman of SCLC and the public spokesperson. They seemed to have worked hand in hand, a two-person top tier of the movement, with everything falling in place because of their decisions and partnership. One is honored worldwide, the other, when known at all and not ignored, is seen as a criminal. Of course his incest conviction as an elderly man will live as a large part of his legacy, yet his unequaled transforming of American and world society while still a young man is clearly evident when researched.

I learned more about Bevel while writing a satire article on his life on Uncyclopedia, and apparantly this satirical article is one of the most factual and accurate on his career! I can't link it because the site has a content warning, although the Bevel page is work-safe. Just look up "James Bevel" and "Uncyclopedia".

More on James Bevel can be found on wikipedia ( en.wikipedia.org... ), and at least one lengthly paper has been written about him

cfm40.middlebury.edu... A brief excerpt from that paper:


So contrary to past accounts, Rev. Bevel never did act as Dr. King's 'aide' or 'lieutenant'. For at the time of their agreement each had already undergone an intense study of Gandhian nonviolence; each had experienced several years of day-by-day decision making in front-line social movements; and each had already learned, matured, and succeeded within the framework of history making events.

By 1962 it had become apparent to Dr. King and others that King could inspire, and that he could calmly explain a country's errors and a people's hopes to a nation of diverse people. But he hadn't and couldn't--and knew that he couldn't--strategize and run a full-fledged nonviolent movement. Dr. King learned that the only person in America who had shown both an understanding of functional nonviolence and the ability to put it into practical action was Rev. James Bevel.


Why the relative silence about Bevel and his work in the 1960s? With his pivotal level of creation and participation in each and every iconic movement event of the era, you'd think he'd have a parking lot named after him somewhere. Nothing. No street, no school, no statue, anywhere. This man more or less "did" the Selma Voting Rights Movement, the Birmingham Children's Crusade (happy 50th!!!), the march from Selma to Montgomery, the Open Housing Movement, and even called for the March on Washington. He may have acted over King's initial objections on most of his projects. But he was the person who thought them up, directed them, and taught the activists how to do them. Some quotes on Bevel from some of his colleagues and others (Robert St. John was a major journalist and historian) from the linked source above:


"The Bevel story does revise the history of the Civil Rights Movement and it needs to be told" ---- Robert St. John

"I don't think we would have had a movement without him. . .He played a very important role, and that role was translated into a successful movement" ---- Andrew Young

"Even the March on Washington was Jim Bevel's idea"
---- Bernard Lafayette

"I'd say 98% of the plans and activities in Selma were Bevel's. The Selma Movement was Bevel's baby."
---- James Orange

"We would have never gone to Selma, and there would not have been a Voting Rights Bill today if James Bevel had not conceived of the idea" "Jim was the originator of the idea of the march from Selma to Montgomery. Jim Bevel is the author of that." "Dr. King could not have done the things he did unless he had a James Bevel."
---- Ralph David Abernathy

"He was a great philosopher, an unbelievable philosopher."
---- Hosea Williams


So that's my post on James Bevel as a historical honoring of his work on this, the 50th anniversary of one of his greatest movements: the Birmingham Children's Crusade. It's a pleasure learning about him and being able to contribute to passing along information about what he did, something not too many people are doing, which puzzles me. And his incest conviction? I wasn't there, so I don't know. But he was well past his prime by that time. Here is a pic of James Bevel from before that event, and a little closer to the time he stood up from within the bowels of Southern segregation and changed the world.





edit on 2-5-2013 by Aleister because: (no reason given)
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