A Final Word on James Bevel.


Some people want to extend the benefit of the doubt to James Bevel, who died last week of pancreatic cancer. Is that wise, though? None of his accomplishments in the Civil Rights Movement offset the physical and psychic trauma he visited upon his daughters for decades. Indeed, he mocked the idea that he would apologize for what he’d done.  It certainly doesn’t mean those other things didn’t happen, but it seems incredibly callous to suggest that the women he repeatedly sexually abused should surrender their well-deserved anger just so it doesn’t  complicate other folks’ memories of the man.



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • scott


  • come on, scott. we know you’re just glad to see us chastising someone on ‘our side.’

    you ain’t foolin’ nobody.

  • scott

    No, believe it or not, politics doesn’t even enter into this one for me.

  • The NYT obit is up: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/23/us/23bevel.html

    The picture painted of Bevel in the last paragraphs give the impression of a descent into madness (pedophilia, supporting Reagan, making followers drink urine, etc.). Wondering if I buy this neat compartmentilization/periodization of good Bevel/bad Bevel.

    No real point, I guess. Just trying to think it through.

  • Grump

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we should compartmentalize his life. But the later years of his life are making many scratch their heads. Then again, Eldridge Cleaver was backing up Reagan, too….

  • Clarence

    As a family insider it is difficult to comprehend the complexities of this man, and for the outside public it is even moreso. I will not defend his actions or the acts he committed against his daughters, nor will I say that those acts diminish what he did for our country and the civil rights movement. What we fail to do is realize that all of our so called “heroes” are human. I personally view pedophilia like alcoholism-it is an illness that I don’t think someone wants to grow up and say “I want to be a pedophile.” This is a problem we haven’t dealt with truthfully or honestly. We simply persecute them. Yet it’s effects are no more harmful in terms of exploiting women through prostitution, pornography, strip clubs, videos and song. Things which we treat as acceptable. We fail to recognize that those women are someones mother, daughter, sister, aunt, and cousin. We as men have no problem abusing women in these areas, but will point the finger at this man and say he is evil.
    Incest and pedophilia is nothing new nor is it confined to a particular race, gender or socio-economic group of people. It is one of the deepest and darkest secrets kept within families and until it is addressed, exposed, and identified it shall remain so. It requires women to speak up and men to take action. Both must step up and identify this problem.
    As a family member, I have seen some good come out of all of this and I often say to people, “Out of the fire the phoenix is born”. Rev. Bevel was guilty of being both a great and evil man. We cannot forget his civil rights actions or the acts against his daughter, nor can we wipe away his accomplishments because of those actions.

  • cicely

    clarence–you make some really powerful points. erasing aspects of people’s lives is no way to address their complexities and paradoxes. Add interlocking systems of oppression to the mix as a factor of individual development and shit gets even more twisted. as a quote i read from one of his daughters indicated, he was a great and monstrous man. abuse does need to be addressed, exposed, and identified.

    however, i find a couple of your points problematic. regarding the relative harm of actions such as incest, pornography, prostitution, strip clubs, and the like, i don’t know that such a cataloguing calculus exists. if it did, i don’t know what purpose it would serve. further, i think that those who have experienced such things should be counted the authority on how such experiences affected their lives. i do agree, though, that in our sexist system, objectification and commodification of women’s bodies leads to exploitation and abuse.

    although the following assertion seems well-intentioned, i worry that it unwittingly echoes the idea of women as things: “We fail to recognize that those women are someones mother, daughter, sister, aunt, and cousin.” this statement is, of course, true. also, though, it seems that rather than casting the survivors as subjects, people unto themselves, who have been trespassed against, it casts the roles the survivors play as the betrayed. and since you seem to be using “we” to mean men, the statement could be read to say, “men’s mothers, daughters, etc.” are being ill-used. in such a statment, the survivors are still being seen as some kind of appendage to men.