James Luther Bevel (October 19, 1936 – December 19, 2008) was a leader of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement who, as the Director of Direct Action and Director of Nonviolent Education of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) initiated, strategized, directed, and developed SCLC’s three major successes of the era: the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade, the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Movement, and the 1966 Chicago Open Housing Movement. Rev. Bevel also called for and initially organized the 1963 March on Washington and initiated and strategized the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches, which, in addition to Bevel’s Birmingham Children’s Crusade, were SCLC’s main public gatherings of the era. For Bevel’s work in the 1960s he has been referred to as the “Father of Voting Rights”, the “Strategist and Architect of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement”, and as half of the Bevel/King first-tier team that formulated and communicated the actions, issues, and dialogues which created the historical changes of the 1960s civil rights era.
Prior to his time with SCLC, Bevel worked in the Nashville Student Movement, where he participated in the 1960 Nashville Lunch-Counter Sit-Ins, directed the 1961 Open Theater Movement, chose the riders for the 1961 Nashville Student Movement continuation of the Freedom Rides, and initiated and directed theMississippi Voting Rights Movement in 1961 and ’62. Later, in 1967, Bevel took a leave from SCLC to direct the Anti-Vietnam War Movement when he was named the leader of the Spring Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam where he initiated and called the 1967 March on the United Nations. His last major action was as co-initiator of the 1995 Day of Atonement/Million Man March.
In 2005 Bevel was accused of incest by one of his daughters. He went to trial in April 2008 and, although he denied the charge, Bevel was convicted of unlawful fornication and sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined $50,000. After serving seven months he was freed awaiting an appeal, and died of pancreatic cancer in December 2008. He was buried in a 17-foot canoe in a small country cemetery in Eutaw, Alabama.
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