It is often quoted that if there had not been a James Bevel, there would not have been a voting rights act. As the initiator, developer, organizer and director of the movement, James galvanized people to join him in eradicating the barriers to voting.
Helen L. Bevel, wife of Rev. James L. Bevel, authored The Spiritual Significance of the Right to Vote Movement. Published in December 2014, the story of the man who has been dubbed as “The Father of the 1965 Nonviolent Right-to-Vote Movement” in Selma, Alabama is brought to light. As an ardent supporter of peaceful protests, Dr. King endorsed Bevel's proposal for a march from Selma to Montgomery demanding justice for the murder of Jimmy Lee Jackson and to confront Wallace over voting rights.
James Bevel's original idea was to take Jackson's casket to Montgomery and place it on the steps of the capitol. After that idea was dismissed, the SCLC announced that it would conduct a protest march from Selma to Montgomery, a fifty four mile march along Highway 80 that would last five days.
In the nonviolent movement, if you went back to some of the classical strategies of Gandhi, when you have, say, a great violation of the people and there's a great sense of injury, you have to give people an honorable means and context in which to express and eliminate that grief and speak decisively and succinctly back to the issue. Otherwise, your movement will break down in violence and chaos.
So agreeing to go to Montgomery was that kind of tool that would absorb a tremendous amount of energy and effort, and it was to keep the issue of disenfranchisement before the whole nation. And the whole point was walking from Selma to Montgomery, it'd take you five or six days, and which yould give you the time to discuss in the nation through the papers, radio, television and going around speaking what the real issues were.
- James Bevel Interview, Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years 1954-1965
The publication of Helen’s book coincided with the release of the movie “Selma” and provided a deeper understanding of the science of nonviolence. She quotes:
Nonviolence is the science of applying love and truth to the solving of problems …With an understanding of the NCP, any person or community can radically and quickly bring about a solution to any problem that hampers the character and human development process.
The history of the Nonviolent Right To Vote Movement is incomplete without the work of James Luther Bevel. It is the complete story that allows people to understand how a movement takes place. As the strategist for this movement he worked to immobilize a group of foot soldiers that were never fully recognized for their fearless and heroic efforts.
Students, laborers, housewives and others filled in the battleground, namelessly, behind the more celebrated leaders. From marching, waving pickets, ducking water hoses, and going to jail, the potency in this movement was defined by the sacrifices made by this group.
Amongst those nameless people was J.J. Simmons, a minister who refused to let a young woman back down from white men's resistance. Theresa Burroughs came of age in the late 1940s and was ready to vote. But in her Alabama town, it took two years of effort just for her to register.
Watch Theresa Burroughs' true story of her fight to vote in, “A More Perfect Union.”
The Theresa Burroughs radio interview