The Sad Fall of James Bevel.

At the height of the Civil Rights Movement, James Bevel organized Freedom Rides. He was with MLK during the “I Have a Dream Speech,” and also with him the night he was killed.

At a family reunion in 2004, his daughters began recounting childhood memories of their father, which included memories of molestation.

Last week, he was charged with incest.

Jurors at the incest trial of civil rights leader James Bevel listened to an hour-long recording of a phone call in which he appeared to offer a convoluted defense of a sexual encounter with his daughter.

In the phone call between Bevel and his daughter, Bevel never made an explicit admission that he had sexual intercourse with his daughter. She testified Tuesday that he had sexual intercourse with her when she was 15 in the early 1990s after he pressured her by saying the sex would relieve him from demons that were sapping his strength. …

After his arrest, prosecutors said they received calls from across the country from women who said the were victimized by Bevel.

Yesterday he was convicted.

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Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs about race and ethnicity for National Public Radio. He is a native of South Philly and reads and writes and runs and rants. You can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to him on Facebook.

24 comments to The Sad Fall of James Bevel.

  • wow. wow. wow. this is a shame. it seemed like there may have been some mental disturbances on his end as well–or maybe that was just a cover for his actions. who’s to know, but what we do know is that this is a sad moment.

  • wow is almost all I can muster right now. Thanks for the information, I totally missed this one. I had him as a guest on my radio show few years back. (If you didn’t know, he was Min. Farrakhans inspiration for the Million Man March)

  • Grump

    Another reason why we must talk to each other about mental health and abuse….

    It just makes his appearance in “4 Little Girls” disturbing.

  • Big Word

    He’s crazy.

  • Randy Kryn

    As the only historian and journalist who has researched and written accurate accounts of James Bevel’s body of work in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s (see “James Bevel: The Strategist of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement”, “Movement Revision Research Summary Regarding James Bevel” and other works), and one of only five journalists to attend his 2008 trial, I still wonder why his historical footprint has not found wide media coverage. James Bevel, half of the Bevel/King team which served as the top-tier of all major movement activities, lived for decades after Dr. King and yet went virtually ignored by the major media until his late-in-life conviction on incest charges. Arguably, if James Bevel had died in 1968 instead of Dr. King then the national holiday which honors the movement would fall on October 19th instead of January 15th, a statement which comes not from bias towards Bevel but from a study of the facts of the Civil Rights Movements timeline, decision-making structure, and its growing importance in American and world history.

  • Kaycee

    I met the man in 1992 and spent a good bit of time with him over the course of a couple days while he spoke at my college. What a force he was even then so long after the movement he was such a powerful speaker. He cursed while preaching and I don’t mean the passe damn or hell. He talked frankly about sex and frankly I got the distinct impression that he would make a great cult leader (if there is such a thing). At the time, I didn’t really know what an influential figure he was in the Civil Rights movement. Then I began to read about him in Taylor Branch’s authoratative series :America in The King Years (Its 3 volumes and a must read) and I was truly honored to have met a living legend. Now I am just sad- what a tragedy.

  • Saddened

    Unfortunately, I must report that Reverend James Bevel passed today due to pancreatic cancer. My husband and I owe our lives and marriage to Reverend Bevel and his wife Erica Henry. When we were at the very end of our rope and had no hope in reconciliation, Reverend Bevel and his wife intervened and prevented probably one of the biggest mistakes we could have ever made. I have personally known both of them for over 5 years and am so appreciative of the historic mark and inspiration he had made. If you go by the events of the past couple of years, you may have a negative pre-judgement of the “man”, however, please know and remember that if it had NOT been for Reverend James Bevel our current elected President wouldn’t be in his position, if not for the fight for voter’s rights that Reverend Bevel orchestrated in the 1960′s. This man was and is a legend in his own right and helped so many people through his journey. Respect for his unwaverin, unaltered, and continuous strength and dedication is definitely in order.

  • when i learned of rev bevel’s daughter, immediately, i was in disbelief and thought my sister had heard some real low-down gossip knowing she does not associate with people of that caliber nor repeat garbage of that magnitude. this alone is just too, too much and now he is dead. i trust the lord knows best. i met rev. bevels in nashville and knew him well since 1976. my younger brother saw his friend killed and stayed in seclusion during his high school senior year. it was rev. bevels who brought him out, counselled with him, provided transportation for regular visits on his farm and someone my mother respected. i thought alot of rev. bevels for the information, teaching and collaboration over the years. this is a tragic ending for such a brilliant man. i’ll remember james bevels from our last visit – he spoke for black history month at vanderbilt university. he continued to teach and emphasize the 12 sciences that he lived by and i have incorporated. he was overjoyed to speak at vanderbilt and only if you knew him, would you have known. he was a man of statue – cool, calm and collective. may he rest in peace and god bless his children that they focus more of his accomplishments and legacy.

  • cicely

    i read this blog often, and really appreciate the diversity and thoughtfulness of the views i see here. however, i am pretty deeply disturbed by the comments. mental illness or no, iconic civil rights leader or no, he raped and incested his daughters. does anyone else find it problematic that the constant devaluing of brown and black women’s bodies is reproduced even within our communities, and the best that people can come up with is that it’s tragic for the perpetrator? what about the survivors? why are his accomplishments for civil rights somehow more important than the crimes of the flesh and spirit he committed against young women?

  • Michal Muhammad

    When I look at a man with whom I spent almost 4 years as a student and assistant, traveled across the country with, and listened to deliver countless messages of inspiration and profound knowledge, that not only touched the lives of many, but saved the lives of many – I know that there is much more to this case than meets the eye. If you have ever been blessed to meet Rev. James Bevel, then you know. If you did not know him, and are a student of history, then you have an idea. If you don’t know and have not studied, even in our lack of knowledge, every citizen of America and many other human beings throughout the world have been directly affected by the tireless work of James Luther Bevel.

    Only after looking carefully into this situation, while restraining the human tendency to pass judgment, and asking a-lot of questions, can one begin to make sense out of this situation.

    I offer two principles, one from the Bible, the other from the Qur’an.

    Bible: Be careful how you judge, because the judgment you give will be the judgment you get.

    Qur’an: When an unrighteous man brings you news, look carefully into it lest you act without knowledge, harm a people and then be sorry for what you did.

    I remember in 1994 when Qubilah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X was wooed by an undercover FBI agent who initiated a relationship with her, gained her confidence and “friendship”, then manipulated her pain over her father’s death to encourage her to play a role in an FBI scheme to convict Min. Louis Farrakhan for the murder of Malcolm X. An FBI agent put the idea in her head and a pen in her hand to sign a document charging Farrakhan with Malcolm’s murder. Why? Because a major objective of the FBI COINTELPRO has always been to “prevent the rise of a Black Messiah who could unite and electrify the masses of Black people”. Nothing has changed today.

    In that case, Min. Farrakhan responded by embracing Malcolm’s daughter as his own, defended her and exposed the FBI’s complicity and entrapment of Ms. Shabazz and the charges were quickly dropped by prosecutors who have never raised that issue in court again.

    I remember that prior to Dr. Kings’ death, J. Edgar Hoover, and the FBI, through illegal wiretaps and survellience, discovered apparent indiscretions in the life of Dr. King and threatened to reveal them to Mrs. Coretta Scott King, unless Dr. King would sell out the movement. Dr. King responded by talking privately to his wife about what he needed to talk to her about and told Hoover and the FBI do what you gotta do, ’cause I’m going to do what God has me to do. Hoover exposed King, but King kept right on moving and overcame the barrage of negative propaganda unleashed by the FBI.

    So today, a daughter of Bevel accuses him of incest. My heart goes out to her and I pray that God, who is the only One who can heal that type of pain, steps in to heal His daughter and repair her in spirit, mind, emotion and body. Please, look carefully into this people and do not rush to judgment. I too am sad. But, I am also strengthened in the knowledge that I nor any of us are qualified to judge. When God judges (Bible and Qur’an) he weighs a man’s good deeds against the weight of his evil. Let he who is without sin, please step up and cast the first stone.

    Just a few questions. As active as Bevel has remained over the years, what would his role have been under a Barack Obama administration that promises to bring all of the best minds together to reshape, restore and renew America. Would not have Bevel been sitting at that table? Who would have an interest in not seeing Bevel at that table? Why was none of Bevel’s history as a civil rights leader, a teacher, an activist, a peacemaker, a counselor, a philosopher, a scholar, etc., etc. allowed to be presented to the jury in consideration of who this man truly is? Why after a decade, was this case brought forward at this time? How many times has the court system of America been used to destroy men of conscious and conviction? How long has there been a task force with surveillance on Bevel to convict him for this or any other charge?

    This is history, let us pray and ask God to make us better men and women than those who went before us. For in his mercy, Allah (God) allows some of his prophets and servants to make mistakes so that others who walk behind them may see the errors of their leaders and teachers and thereby have a criterion for right decision making, thus allowing those who come after to walk more perfectly than those who went before.

    May Allah bless Dr. Bevel and reward him for the best that he has done and not deprive us of his reward.

    Peace & Blessings people.

  • cicely

    again–no amount of brilliance, influence, and concern about the fate and welfare of black people makes incest okay; nor should the aforementioned induce us to ignore the experience of these women, who are survivors of sexual abuse and betrayal at the hands of their father. people are generally not facile characters, engaging in all good or all bad deeds: hence, someone who is a pillar of the community can abuse women.

    the point i’m trying to make:
    why does it seem that even in 2008, the importance of recognizing the realized potential of black men trumps the lived experiences of black women? why? and why do so many people seem to want these women to just shut the fuck up?

    the work he did for the rights of black people does not preclude his abuse of women, who, interestingly, seem to only count as black people when they go along to get along, i.e. shut the fuck up.

  • cicely

    and a question, that hopefully will clarify: are you saying there’s no way he did this?

  • Michal Muhammad

    I am clearly stating that it would be wise for us to reserve judgment when we do not have a comprehensive knowledge of what we are talking about. Any of us as human beings are subject to do anything. We are all flawed and our perceived self-righteousness is as filthy rags in the the eyes of God.

    Incest, rape, adultery and every sex crime – in fact all crimes against family are justly punishable with heavy consequences.

    Black women are sacred beings in my sight and in the sight of God. Women are sacred beings. The message is not that any victim of such should shut their mouths.

    The message is that those of us who cast stones about others without knowledge should reserve our judgment. The message is not to these sisters. I, as you do not know without a shadow of a doubt, what went on within that family. At best, we only know what we have heard. Through the limitation of the media, through a corrupt court system, second hand accounts, etc. It is we who should reserve our judgment of Bevel.

    Let us take up the mantle against the abuse of women. But, the question that we must ask is how? Condemnation of a man who has transitioned from this Earth and who must now be judged by God, History and Science is not the most effective means of helping victims of sexual abuse. Nor, will it help the countless people who have been affected for good and who are still being affected for good by a living body of knowledge that Dr. Bevel taught. What we don’t understand is that when you have a living body of knowledge that has the power to heal, educate, inspire and uplift – when you condemn the man who carries that body of knowledge, the hope and the efforts of the enemy is to cause that body of knowledge to also be condemned and buried, so that others will not be inspired by the best of what a man has carried into the world.

    I do, however, understand that when we have been touched by the pain of abuse, it does appear that this condemnation will help.

    What truly helps is understanding why sexual abuse as well as other crimes are committed by human beings and finding some method of healing and educating others – arming parents and children with the knowledge and practices that guard against such things entering into the family.

    We ultimately have to summon the courage to go back to God, understanding that He allows everything that happens to occur. Whether it be through His active Will, commanding a thing. Or through His permissive will, allowing a thing initiated by another , to occur.
    Why does God allow these things to happen?

    This is the real question that we must ask ourselves. Because it is through the seeking of this answer that we find purpose in our own lives. And not only purpose, but power. Power to change the reality under which we live. The power to end sexual abuse once and for all.

    I would love to work with anyone who truly would like to work on this. Bevel was great. Now he is gone. The operative question is what are we, the living, now doing?

    For practical information on dealing with severe circumstances of trauma and pain from a spiritual perspective, please watch this webcast by Minister Louis Farrakhan:

    http://store.finalcall.com/media/essence2006/default.htm

    There is also a profound look at combatting sexual abuse and the role of family in another message that can found through the same website called: “Problems in Relationships”

    Peace & Love.

  • cicely

    thanks; i feel i better understand what you originally meant. i want to be clear: i am not condemning this man, nor am i interested in doing so. i am trying to address the comment made that basically added up to, “well, maybe he did some naughty things, but he was a great man!” such a comment is minimizing and disrespectful, and sends the message that as long as a person does great things, it doens’t matter who they hurt in the process, especially if the great thing was for black people, and women were the ones hurt.

    as to this: “when you condemn the man who carries that body of knowledge, the hope and the efforts of the enemy is to cause that body of knowledge to also be condemned and buried, so that others will not be inspired by the best of what a man has carried into the world.” while i don’t disagree with that statement, i don’t think that it means we can’t talk about and look to understand people in their complex, paradoxical entirety. which means acknowledging all of bevel’s actions, beneficial and harmful.

    you say you would like to work with anyone who would truly like to work on this. what is the measure of the word truly? what kind of work do you think should be done around sexual violence?

    in solidarity,
    c

  • Michal Muhammad

    There are basically three issues that we are discussing at this point.

    1. The statement, “Bevel was great”. Now he is gone. The operative question is what are we, the living, now doing?”

    2. “i don’t think that it means we can’t talk about and look to understand people in their complex, paradoxical entirety. which means acknowledging all of bevel’s actions, beneficial and harmful.”

    3. “you say you would like to work with anyone who would truly like to work on this. what is the measure of the word truly? what kind of work do you think should be done around sexual violence?”

    1. There is no question that without a shadow of a doubt, Bevel is a “great” man. The word great denotes size, influence, stature, volume, etc. However, it does not denote a moral judgment. The history of several countries cannot be told without mentioning his name. Bevel was/is great. That is a fact. An immoral action in one’s life, regardless of how “greatly immoral” it may be, simply does not detract from the magnitude of one’s moral accomplishments.
    The problem is that the connotation that the word great carries is good – a moral judgment. And if we have judged a man to be evil, then we oppose his being associated with good. My point, be careful how you judge, because it can cloud one’s vision. The only way to stay out of the trap of judgment is to seek to take God’s view on a thing. For this is the only time that we see clearly. And in order to take God’s view, we must subordinate our own views and opinions and seek to discover His hand in everything that occurs, both good and/or evil. This requires patience. It is hard to be patient. But patience is a virtue. That is why I referred in an earlier post to the way that God judges, according to two different books of scripture.

    2. I totally agree with your statement concerning seeking to understand the complexities of men and women. In my experience The Rev. James Luther Bevel is as complex as they come. That is why when I met him, I related to him as a student, knowing that I had much to learn from a man who’s whole life has shaped the course of American and world history. To attempt to discuss or to understand such a person from a cursory glance is just not fair, it is not wise, and it is not just. Such a discussion will be disrespectful in its spirit and misleading in its substance. Such a discussion will begin with false premises and inevitably end in unjust conclusions and the discussion will be riddled with unresolved conflicts – unless one of some degree of understanding enters into the discussion to help resolve the many conflicts that will surely arise. As such, one who seeks to understand such a complex man, must first build the complex foundation for understanding. Most of the public and private discussions about Bevel and other great and “controversial” men like him can be characterized in this way. These public discussions are like randomly inviting persons who never passed algebra into a forum where they can hide behind cloaks of anonymity and make irrelevant and unsustainable comments when the subject of the discussion is trigonometry.
    As to acknowledging all of Bevel’s actions, I simply cannot acknowledge that he is guilty based upon the trial that he received. There are too many unanswered questions – my original post points to some lightweight questions that need to be answered. There are many others as well that perhaps would have surfaced in the appeal that will unfortunately, never take place. So, I rightly do not accept the judgment of man, I’ll wait on the judgment of God. But for the sake of education, I don’t mind taking the position, what if Bevel was guilty – because there is a lot of good that can come from that discussion, if the subject remains on the complex issues that arise, rather than on an attempt to judge, condemn and discredit the person. I do acknowledge your response that you are not trying to condemn, but to understand. I appreciate that and I too have grown in understanding your point as well.

    3. As to the measure of the word “truly” and what I think must be done around sexual abuse…
    Can a liar know the truth? One who seeks truth will find it. The truth always leads back to one’s self. The answer to dealing with sexual abuse lies within. Are you willing to go down deep enough within your own emotions and back far enough in your own history and personal psychology to find your own contribution to the problem and then work to eliminate it within the larger social context? Are you ready to be controversial? Are you ready to be complex? Are you ready to “align yourself with ‘fringe movements’?” Are you ready to be hated and mailigned for the sake of the truth?
    My work has been providing programmatic and individualized solutions such as workshops, counseling, healing and education to both victims and perpetrators. I believe that we all must arm ourselves with basic spiritual, mental, emotional and social tools necessary to address these issues when they show up in our own families as well as the families of others.

    Peace & Blessings.

  • cicely

    “Are you willing to go down deep enough within your own emotions and back far enough in your own history and personal psychology to find your own contribution to the problem and then work to eliminate it within the larger social context? Are you ready to be controversial? Are you ready to be complex? Are you ready to “align yourself with ‘fringe movements’?” Are you ready to be hated and mailigned for the sake of the truth?”

    i’m ready, and acting. i’ve begun to process of walking my talk in the last few years, and am finding it both more difficult and more rewarding than i could have ever imagined.

    the questions i’ve been asking from the very beginning have little to do with measuring his character, and much to do with addressing the fact that violence to women and their bodies is too often erased in the face of some man’s greatness. what i’ve been attempting to make central is the experiences of these women who were violated as a result of their interaction with this great man, and to examine why that experience is apparently less important. it’s the original question i asked, a question that stems from the comments people made. your responses, while thoughtful, don’t seem to speak very much to my original questions.

  • Randy Kryn

    (See my comment, number five, for background)

    Those of us who knew Jim Bevel will miss him, a presence in many lives. Before he died he told me that he wanted people to know that he saw Selma–and voting rights–as his main accomplishent, that it was “determinative”. Just look over to 1600 Penn. Ave. to see one example of how determinative.
    An interesting conversation above. The incest conviction usually appeared in the first paragraph of his obits, so it will follow his history. But the full data on his Civil Rights Movement years did not appear in that or any other paragraph–and if the incest conviction receives attention why not his major historical contribution in the second American revolution?

  • Cicely: you’re right. “may he rest in peace and god bless his children that they focus more of his accomplishments and legacy.”

    That’s an incredibly callous statement, and trivializes the physical and psychic trauma that he visited on those young women repeatedly over the course of decades. His accomplishments in the CRM don’t offset any of that. The fact that he was a charismatic and complicated doesn’t mean that he wasn’t any less of a monster.

  • cicely

    i wonder if you’ll ever even read this:

    the reason why his incest conviction receives attention while his major historical contributions do not is racism.

    the reason why there was very little real interaction with the concerns i raised above about is sexism.

    simple, huh?

  • Peace

    Cicely, the reason Michal Muhammad will not comment on the reallity of abuse in this otherwise “great” man’s life, is because it strikes too close to home. His own wife and daughter are currently living in a safe house for battered women and sexually abused children. He also worships in a religion whose founder was a known pediphile (a fact that is not hidden in the Q’uran).

  • tonya

    When a woman claims she is abused we have to believe it. When a court convicts a man for abuse we also must accept its findings as fact. Both have demonstrated they are truthful entities that never leave the path of truth or have ulterior motives. The idea that a black man didn’t get a fair trial is insulting. Saying he was framed or considering his contributions to civilization is another form of rape. I’m tired of black women’s bodies being seen as objects. Im tired of any woman’s word being questioned. Making charges twenty years after the fact is her right as a victim. I think people are upset because they thought Bevel was a freedom fighter. But really he was an oppresor of women. Civil rights for black people or any other group are just not important when you look at how much women are oppressed by patriarchy. Even today I was constantly victimized by the above comments. Rape apologist should be jailed without trial. The fact that he helped me get the right to vote doesnt matter. The fact that matters is the repressed memory of his daughter.

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