Youth Leader for Civil Rights

James Bevel was born in 1936 in Missouri. He was one of 17 children. After graduating from a segregated school, he joined the Navy. He was inspired to enter the ministry. In addition to his pursuit of the ministry, James also was influenced by the teachings of Mohandas Gandhi.

James became active in the civil rights movement. He was one of the participants in the lunch counter set-ins in Nashville and other civil rights initiatives. With James’ successes, he was invited to meet with Martin Luther King (MLK). They agreed to work together as partners under the auspices of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). James had responsibility for the action and education parts of SCLC.

It was through James’ initiatives that national attention began to be focused on the over reach to civil rights protests. It was the pressure of James’ crusade that got the Kennedy administration moving on a civil rights bill that had been stalled.

James continued to be involved in civil rights activities such as the Selma to Montgomery march. He was also a key contributor to the March on Washington. He also became involved in protests against the Vietnam War.

The assassination of MLK seemed to be a downward turning point in James’ life. He claimed that James Earl Ray was innocent. He moved his political views to support of conservatives and became associated with controversial figures. James’ reputation was destroyed when he was convicted of incest. He died six weeks after the conviction.

James Bevel was clearly an important figure in the fight for civil rights. His contributions are largely unknown today. One of the mysteries of some heroic figures is why they take action which destroys their reputations. How should we remember James Bevel? That’s a tough decision that each person needs to make.

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“James Bevel could do more with young people than any human being on the face of the earth.”  – Hosea Williams (Civil rights leader)



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