City of Selma creates annual observance for local civil rights leader

Feb 14, 2021

The Selma City Council is declaring March 15th to be "F.D. Reese Day" in the community. Frederick Douglas Reese was 88 when he died in 2018. He had been part of the "Courageous Eight" who played a key role in inviting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to Selma to join the fight to ensure voting rights for all. The works of Reese and his peers led to the Selma-to-Montgomery marches. Alabama Public Radio newsroom intern Sarah Sherrill and classmate Katie Shepherd interviewed Reese for a radio feature that became part of APR’s documentary “More Bridges to Cross.” The program focused on the 50th anniversary of the “bloody Sunday” attack on voting rights marchers in Selma in 1965. Here’s an excerpt from Sarah’s story when they met Reese at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

(Reverend) Reese met us at the door. He was a gray suit. And, his deeply wrinkled face looked tired. It was a sharp contrast to the black and white photos of him in the 1960’s alongside Dr. King. He was jailed during the voting rights march…

“How many days do you stay in the jail?” Katie asked.

“I forget how many days I stayed in there,” responded Reese. “But, certainly we were in there several days. There were those of us who couldn’t sing as well as others. But, those who could sing . We would sing in jail, pray in jail, and hope something would happen.”

“I heard stories about while ya’ll were in the Selma City jail, that you refused to eat baloney sandwiches and collard greens, It that a true story?” Katie continued.

“That’s true,” said Reese

“Could you tell me more of that?” she asked.

“They were trying to indicate that because we were in jail, that our main food, collard greens and corn bread and so forth, so were determined to not eat the food they had prepared,” recalled Reese. “And then look forward to the time we were going to get out of jail, and eat of that good home cooked food.”

“It was…I mean who gets to do that?” said Katie as we drove onto our next stop. ”Who gets to interview the man who invited Dr. King to Selma. It’s humbling and I’ll never forget it in a million years. This is something I'll tell my kids.”

The APR documentary “More Bridges to Cross,” including Sarah’s story, went onto to win the “Silver Radio award” from the New York Festivals International Radio competition, and a national “Salute to Excellence” award from the National Association of Black Journalists.