Dr. F.D. Reese crosses Edmund Pettus Bridge one last time

Published 10:29 pm Friday, April 13, 2018

Civil rights icon the Rev. Dr. F.D. Reese crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the final time Friday after family, friends and community members celebrated his life at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church.

Reese passed away last week on April 5 at the age of 88 –– just one day after the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

“No need to worry. No need to fret. Death does not win here. Death does not get the victory,” said the Rev. James Perkins Jr., as services started.

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The sanctuary of the very church Reese pastored for 50 years and nine months was filled to capacity. Foot soldiers from the 1965 voting rights movement in Selma, which Reese led, former students, fellow pastors and so many other people he touched during his 88 years filled the pews.

The feeling inside Ebenezer was neither sad, somber or sorrow. It was a time of celebration.

“We come not because our father Dr. Reese died, but we came because Dr. Reese lived,” said bishop Theo Bailey.

“In this hour, we come now with the challenge of first of all reminding us of how this man lived and gave … gave up himself that we might be a better people, and we might have a better Selma –– that we would enjoy a greater United States.”

Reese’s work during the voting rights movement led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Because of Reese’s work and leadership, Dr. King came to Selma and joined the movement. He inspired teachers to march and join the fight, which sparked the movement and encouraged others to take a stand.

“We just want to thank you, Father, for the life of F.D. Reese,” Bailey said. “The other challenge is that some of us must be reminded that this man lived to help us to live, help us to see what he did, how he did it and the way that he would do things. We love you today, Lord.”

Reese has been honored with a great number of resolutions and remarks since his death. One of those was from Alabama State University, where Reese graduated from in 1951. Kenneth Mullinax, director of media relations for the university, presented Reese’s family with a resolution.

“I’d be remised to say we stand upon the shoulders of giants like F.D. Reese,” Mullinax said. “He is undoubtedly one of the most famous alumni ever to graduate in the 150 year of our school.”

Congresswoman Terri Sewell, whose high school principal was Reese, attended the service for herself and on behalf of Congress. Before she shared a few words of her own, she read aloud two letters –– one from Congressman John Lewis, who could not be there.

“He was not just any leader. He was a leader among leaders,” Lewis wrote in part. “He made it easy for all people to become participants of the movement to change Selma and the state of Alabama. He was insistent and persistent. When he said something, people listened. What Rev. Reese said and did all live on in our hearts and in our nation for generations yet unborn.”

The other letter was from former President Barack Obama, who marched on the front line with Reese during the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in 2015.

“Through his challenge to this country, he touched countless lives and helped move us toward a more perfect union. No words can ease the grief you feel. I hope that you will take some measure of comfort in reflecting on the fond memories made with Rev. Reese,” Obama wrote.

“And in knowing that his efforts helped shape a fairer, more just and more equal America, please know that you will always remain in my thoughts and prayers, and his bravery will always be remembered by this nation.”

Sewell told Reese’s family she had a pile of resolutions from Congress members honoring Reese and thanking him for all he did.

“We know that so many of us in Congress stand on his shoulders, and we would not be in Congress had it not been for F.D. Reese,” Sewell said.

“It’s our legacy to know and to do what is right.”

After words from Perkins and a eulogy from Reese’s long-time friend pastor R.L. Patterson, pallbearers carried Reese’s casket to the hearse for his final journey over the Edmund Pettus Bridge.