“There were those who made sure they made you feel like you were less,” said Reverend Dr. F.D. Reese about the treatment of black people by white people during the civil rights movement that made him one of the most famous civil rights figures in U.S. history.
Dr. F.D. Reese is a member of the “Courageous Eight,” a group of prominent black leaders and committee members for the Dallas County Voting League (DCVL), and a reverend at Ebenezer Baptist Church since the church’s construction in 1976. Dr. Reese was born and raised in Selma, a small town with a lot of history both in Civil Rights and the Civil War. In 1965, Dr. Reese was the President of the DCVL at the time of the marches in Selma.
Reese was responsible for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s involvement in the marches and meetings when he invited him to Selma. Two weeks after Bloody Sunday, the march that hospitalized over 50 people and led the Voting Rights Act a few months later. Dr. King asked marchers to come back for a second attempt at a “peaceful” protest, protected by law enforcement under the order of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Called “Turnaround Tuesday,” it was the day Reese and Dr. King along with the Dallas County Voting League and Southern Christian Leadership Conference walked side by side leading hundreds of non-violent protestors.
Almost 20 years after the marches in 1984, Reese ran for mayor of Selma, but was defeated by incumbent Joe Smitherman. Even after his loss, Dr. Reese continued to be an influential figure in the community giving a sermon every Sunday at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Reese recalled being a young child on the playground, a memory that reflects his determination, even from an early age.
“I was always delighted at recess time to get on what we called the down and ground. There was a certain part of that round you stood up and anyone could come and wrestler or box you down to the ground,” he said. “Sometimes when I went out I had all my clothes, but when I came in my shirt was torn, pants was torn.” Reese said he liked this game, even when he got beat. “But we had an opportunity to say that I’m determined that regardless of whatever might happen I’m going to stand up for what is right and pleasing.”
Reese credited God with his role in the movement. “I guess the Lord had me in the right place and the right time and the right commitment because I was determined to not be afraid of whatever might transpire,” he said, adding that he was determined to lead his community to better days.
“I was willing to do whatever it took to be a leader,” he said. He has been committed to encouraging those around him to break through the barriers that faced them during and after the movement. “I made sure I would encourage anyone who wanted to be a teacher,” he said. “I wanted to give the kind of encouragement students who were determined to be somebody.”
Reese has continued to educate the community even after he retired from teaching. He described himself as determined and wanting to help others to be the same. He recalled his first time going in the front door of a grocery store where they only served whites, an act that took courage in the 1960s. “I had to make sure that if I went somewhere I went in the front door,” he said. “If you went in the front door, you could stand the chance of being arrested… but I was determined to go through the front regardless of the color of my skin.”
Story by Camille Harrison and video by Doyle Maurer