Grandsons of Civil Rights Leader Frederick D. Reese on His Autobiography “Selma’s Self-Sacrifice” and How They Are Continuing His Legacy With the F. D. Reese Foundation

Alan Reese (left) and Marvin Reese Jr. (right) held signings of their grandfather F.D. Reese’s autobiography at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. In 2017, they started the F.D. Reese Foundation (Credit: Shauna Stuart for Al.com)

The autobiography of Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Reese has finally been published. “Selma’s Self-Sacrifice” is the late civil rights leader’s account of the voting rights movement in Alabama’s Black Belt and the events leading up to Bloody Sunday and the eventual passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Born in Selma in 1929, F.D. Reese was instrumental in bringing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Selma to help lead protests against voter discrimination.

Published in December 2018, eight months after Reese’s death, the book was decades in the making. While the educator and minister had entertained the thought of documenting his life, becoming an author wasn’t a priority — even though his close friends and fellow civil rights leaders encouraged him to do so.

“Long after the marches, jail stays and beatings, I can’t recall a time when I would see the late Rev. Hosea Williams and he wouldn’t inquire, ‘When is your book coming out?’” Reese wrote in his memoir.

After the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Reese continued to set his sights on desegregating Selma. The activist, who went on to serve as one of Selma’s first black city council members, was focused on the movement. When Williams pressed him, he’d reply “In God’s time.”

Not everyone was as supportive as Williams. In the book, Reese noted that many people– from Selma and beyond– told him his contributions to the movement in Selma weren’t nearly as notable as those from the more celebrated leaders with whom he marched, prayed, and knelt beside on the front lines of the fight for civil rights.

That fact still leaves Reese’s grandson, Alan, dismayed.

“When I read that part (of the book) I thought, ‘that’s crazy,” Alan told AL.com.

His brother Marvin, however, isn’t as appalled. He notes that while leaders like John Lewis and Hosea Williams worked in other states and national politics, Reese chose to stay in Selma to focus on local politics and improving the quality of life for the city’s black residents.

“To be honest, it didn’t make me feel any type of way,” said Marvin. “Grandad has always been the type to really care about the cause. When he felt like one (goal) had been accomplished, he’d move on to the next one. And throughout the book, you’ll see that. He wasn’t just satisfied with (working on) voting rights. His life was always about a different cause and he kept moving. So, I never felt any type of way about other people’s opinions. I knew what my grandad stood for.”

Reese was never resentful about not receiving national recognition. Popularity was never part of his plan.

During a signing of “Selma’s Self Sacrifice” earlier this month at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, Alan smiled and shook his head as he recalled his grandfather’s indifference.

“My grandaddy was very stubborn.”

But Hosea Williams never stopped encouraging Reese to write his memoir. The Reese brothers, who currently reside in Atlanta, remember seeing Williams in the city or in Selma for the Jubilee, the annual commemoration of Bloody Sunday.

“Whenever I’d see him, he’d tell me ‘tell your grandaddy to write his book,’” said Alan.

Photographs but no name

Growing up, Alan remembers seeing photographs of his grandfather in history books.

“We would see his face in the books, but not a name. So, I used to tell him ‘I’m getting tired of that. Not seeing your name.’ ” said Alan. “I’d ask him. How does it make you feel. And he’d say ‘it doesn’t matter.’“

But Alan would never be satisfied with his grandfather’s response.

Reese would eventually start writing his memoir, working on the book on and off over the years.

“When I got older he told me ‘if you feel like you can do something with my legacy, do it.’ ” said Alan.

For Alan and Marvin, that meant encouraging their grandfather to finish his autobiography.

F.D. Reese finished writing his book in 2017 with the help of author Kathy M. Walters. Walters, whose cousin is married to Alan, sat with the minister, speaking with him about organizing protests in Selma, his faith, and raising a family at the height of the civil rights movement.

The result was “Selma’s Self-Sacrifice.”

“He wrote it. We finished it. It’s an extension of the book he started years ago,” said Alan. “When he finished it, he allowed us to come up with the name. Because we were working on his legacy.”

“Selma’s Self-Sacrifice”

Dedicated to his wife, Alline, his family, and the people of Selma, the first chapter of “Selma’s Self-Sacrifice” opens with Reese’s account of standing with the Selma County Teachers Association as they faced Sheriff Jim Clark on the steps of the Dallas County Courthouse. Clark, infamous for his radical views and vicious opposition to desegregation, would later be responsible for many of the violent arrests during Bloody Sunday, the day when peaceful protesters were beaten by police and Alabama state troopers while attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge to Montgomery to demand the right to vote.

Reese, who was president of the Selma Teachers Association and fought for black female teachers to get maternity leave, was an unwavering advocate for teachers and challenged them to join the voting rights campaign.

“My goal was to let teachers know that one of our most prized possessions is our voice and to stress the potential impact we could have by taking a stand and fighting for what was rightfully ours,” wrote Reese.

President of the Dallas County Voters league, Reese was known as one of Selma’s “Courageous Eight” a group of activists who continued to hold meetings to discuss protesting voting injustices, even after a court injunction banned marches and meetings.

In nine chapters, the late civil rights leader devoted his memoir to elevating the stories of the unsung heroes of the voting rights movement in the Black Belt, weaving in deeply personal narratives of meeting his wife, starting a family, and losing two sons to muscular dystrophy.

Walters also added a final chapter to the book. The tenth chapter of “Selma’s Self Sacrifice” is devoted to Reese’s funeral and the legacy he left after his death in April 2018. With reflections from James Perkins, Selma’s first black mayor, Congresswoman Terri Sewell and Nancy Sewell, and Selma’s current mayor, Darrio Melton, the chapter concludes with an image of the telegram Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sent Reese on January 11, 1964, thanking and congratulating him for leading the teachers of Dallas County in protest and destroying often-made charge that teachers were afraid to fight injustice.

“He’s the reason why you have the first black officer in Selma,” Alan said of his grandfather. “The first black sheriff. The first black fireman. He integrated a doctor’s office.”

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SOURCE: Al.com, Shauna Stuart