Black History Month: Rev. Frederick Douglas Reese

Posted by on Feb 22, 2023 in Stuff You Should Know, Top Stories, United States

Have you ever heard of Rev. Frederick Douglas Reese? If not, you aren’t alone. In fact, not many Americans are familiar with F.D. Reese, even though he was a pivotal figure in the civil rights movement and worked for a more just and equal society alongside icons such as John Lewis and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Here, btw takes a closer look at this important civil rights activist, as well as at his children and grandchildren’s ongoing efforts to keep his legacy alive. 

Who Was F.D. Reese? 

Frederick Reese was born in 1929 in Selma, Alabama. He graduated from Alabama State University and was an educator for more than half a century. He taught science and math at R.B. Hudson High School.  Reese joined the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL) in 1960. He was elected to be the organization’s president in 1962. The DCVL was a key voting rights organization in Selma, working to increase African American voter registration in the city. Reese was also hired to be the pastor at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Selma in 1965. That same year, the DCVL wrote a letter urging the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to come to Selma and join their efforts to lead an African American voter registration drive. (When the drive began, only t300 African Americans were registered in the county of 50,000 people.) Dr. King and the SCLC agreed to come to Selma in 1965 and coordinated with Reese and the DCVL to conduct three marches from Selma to Montgomery.  

Reese never stopped fighting for human rights and social justice. He served several terms on the Selma City Council, until he ran for mayor against a white incumbent opponent and lost. In 2000, he helped elect James Perkins, Sr.–Selma’s first African American mayor. Rev. Reese died in 2018 at the age of 88. 

The Historical Tour 

Reese’s grandsons, Alan and Marvin Reese, wanted more people to learn about their grandfather’s contributions to the Selma civil rights movement. The grandsons organized the F.D. Reese Historical Tour to keep his legacy alive. The tour, which runs every weekend, makes stops at several historic sites around Selma, including: 

  • the home where Reese was born,  
  • the school where Reese planned a teachers march in 1965 that organized over 100 African American teachers to march to the county courthouse to demand voter registration, and  
  • the Brown Chapel AME Church, where marchers prepared for the first Selma to Montgomery march that occurred on March 7, 1965. 

The tour ends at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where those same March 7 protestors were brutally beaten by police officers in the event now known as Bloody Sunday.  

Preserving a Legacy 

The tour is not the only way that Reese is remembered. The Alabama legislature designated a three-mile portion of Highway 80—including the section of road on the Pettus Bridge as “Dr. Frederick D. Reese Parkway.” And in 2016, the United States Congress awarded Rev. Dr. Reese and fellow civil rights activist John Lewis with Congressional Gold Medals to honor their work in the civil rights movement.  

Alan and Marvin Reese regularly visit schools across the country to talk to students about their grandfather’s legacy. They also host a weekly podcast about the civil rights movement. Together with several other members of their family, Alan and Marvin started the F.D. Reese Foundation. The Foundation organizes sponsorships to help fund school trips and to help organize the weekend tours.  

Dig Deeper One of the stops on the tour is at the Brown Chapel AME Church where marchers prepared for the first Selma to Montgomery march. March 7, 1965, became known as Bloody Sunday. Conduct research to learn more about what happened that day. In your opinion, why is this an important event to commemorate?