SANDERS: “Courageous Eight” have marched final march

Published 9:14 pm Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The abbreviation BC attached to dates means “Before Christ,” signifying a resetting of the calendar (along with the established order) by His arrival.

Rev. Doctor Frederick Douglas Reese marched his last march on April 5, 2018.  He marched from the Earthly Realm into the Upper Realm.  He joyfully joined other members of the Courageous Eight.  They had already marched their last march.  He was the last of the Courageous Eight to march the last march.

I want to lift Rev. Dr. F.D. Reese. I want to also lift the Courageous Eight as I lift Dr. Reese.  First, let me tell you about the Courageous Eight.  Their names, in alphabetical order, are Ulysses Blackmon, Amelia Boynton-Robinson, Ernest Doyle, Marie Foster, James Gildersleeve, J.D. Hunter, F.D. Reese, and Henry Shannon.  Names are important but do not tell us nearly enough.  All Eight marched for freedom.  All Eight fought for justice.  All Eight have marched their last march.

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During the Selma Civil Rights Struggle/Voting Rights Struggle, a court injunction was issued prohibiting “three or more negroes” from meeting in Selma or Dallas County to discuss civil rights and/or voting rights.

The Courageous Eight continued to meet in spite of the likely consequences from the court. They also risked death from lurking killers.  Then the Courageous Eight had the gall to invite Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak at a rally in Selma on January 2, 1965.  Dr. King did not come anywhere unless people were already struggling and local leaders extended him an open written invitation.  These leaders extended that invitation to Dr. King at great risk.  Now you know a little of why they are called the Courageous Eight.  All Eight have marched their last march.

We should know that the Selma Voting Rights Movement started long before 1965.  In fact, Amelia Boynton and her husband, Samuel Boynton, initiated efforts to get Black people to register and vote as far back as the 1930s. They founded the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL) and continued to struggle for Black voter participation down through the years.  In 1963, Bernard Lafayette and Colia Liddell Lafayette of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), came to Selma.

They stimulated students to get involved who protested vigorously and were jailed by the hundreds.  At the time, only 130 of 15,115 Blacks eligible to vote were registered to vote in Dallas County.

In addition, public places were still segregated in spite of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibited the segregation of public places.  It was the funeral of Samuel Boynton that resulted in the first mass meeting in Selma at the Tabernacle Baptist Church.  As you can see, so many contributed in so many ways.  But the Courageous Eight have a special place in this struggle.  All Eight have now marched their last march.

Lets look briefly at the individual members of the Courageous Eight.  Ulysses Blackmon was a teacher at a Lutheran School.  Amelia Boynton was a retired U.S. Government employee who owned an insurance agency.  Ernest Doyle was a noted interior decorator.  Marie Foster was a dental assistant.  James Gildersleeve was principal of a Lutheran School. J.D. Hunter was a minister and insurance agent.  F.D. Reese was a teacher and pastor.  Henry Shannon was a minister and barber.

These brief descriptions do not tell us nearly enough about these eight leaders.  Suffice it to be said that each was a freedom fighter.

The Courageous Eight have marched their last march.

I wrote a Sketches about Marie Foster in September of 2003.  I wrote a Sketches about Amelia Boynton Robinson in September of 2015.  I wish I had written a Sketches about each of the other eight as they passed.  Ulysses Blackmon, Jr. passed in 1990.  Rev. Henry Shannon, Jr. passed in 1993.  Marie Foster passed in 2003.  J.D. Hunter passed in 2003.

James Gildersleeve passed in 2004.  Ernest Doyle passed in 2011.  Amelia Boynton Robinson passed in 2015.  F. D. Reese passed in 2018.  This moment, however, belongs to Dr. F.D. Reese.  The Courageous Eight have marched their last march.

Dr. Reese was born on November 28, 1929. He passed on April 5, 2018. He was 88 years of age.  Dr. Reese was a leader in every major arena in which he participated.  He was a leading pastor in the religious arena as pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church for 50 years.  He was a leader in the political arena, having served as a member of the Selma City Council and having run for Mayor of Selma and the U.S. Senate.  He was a leader in the education arena having served as a teacher, principal and assistant superintendent of the Selma City School System.  But his most extraordinary leadership was manifested in the Selma Civil Rights/Voting Rights Movement.  The Courageous Eight have marched their last march.

Dr. Reese held two key positions during the Selma Voting Rights Struggle that contributed to his critical leadership role.  He was President of the Dallas County Voters League, which the Boyntons had created in the 1930s, and President of the Selma Teachers Association.  As President of the Teachers Association, he helped organize and lead the Teachers March on January 22, 1965.  This was the first and only Teachers March during the National Voting Rights Struggle.  Teachers were particularly vulnerable because they were public employees and their livelihood could be snatched away at the stroke of a pen.  Dr. Reese was the only member of the Courageous Eight who was a public school teacher.  He led by example in marching, organizing and struggle. The Courageous Eight have marched their last march.

Dr. Reese paid a high price.  He was fired from his position as a teacher and was unemployed for three years.  He was falsely charged with theft by local authorities because he headed the Dallas County Voters League.  He was tried and acquitted of all charges.  All the while he kept leading.  Dr. Reese was the last of the Courageous Eight.  He has now marched gallantly into the Upper Realm, joining his fellow members.  The Courageous Eight have marched their last march.

Are we destined for certain greatness at birth?  Did the parents of Frederick Douglas Reese sense his destiny when they named him Frederick Douglas Reese after the legendary fighter against slavery?  Did his name influence his life and leadership?  Your answer is as good as mine.