From Your Interim Minister
Last Friday I drove to Asheville with some Piedmont UU Church friends to visit a retired UU minister, the Rev. Clark Olsen, who had a traumatic experience in Selma in 1965. I got to know Clark in the 1970s in connection with him serving as my future wife’s internship supervisor at his church in Morristown, NJ. When we got to Clark’s house, we talked about our White Supremacy Teach-Ins, and he was interested in the consciousness-raising that many of us are experiencing.
After a while I asked him to play a CNN segment from the 1980s that I’d seen before, about his time in Selma. Three UU ministers who departed a café to go to Brown Chapel for a meeting with Dr. King took a shortcut that passed by a bar that was a hangout for Klansmen. Three of them came out, trailed the ministers for a minute, and then one took a mighty swing with an ax handle at the minister on the outside. The minister who took the blow was Jim Reeb, who died two days later. President Johnson mentioned him in a speech the following day, and it helped LBJ gather support to pass the 1965 Civil Rights Act.
The video points out an all-white jury acquitted the three men who attacked the three ministers, and that all three attackers have now died of old age. In addition to Rev. Reeb, the other two ministers were Rev. Orloff Miller (recently deceased), and Rev. Clark Olsen, now the lone survivor.
I told my young friends in advance that my friend Clark had experienced an extremely traumatic event, and was still deeply affected, 52 years later, and that they should be prepared for deep distress. And yes, Clark can’t tell this story without choking up and weeping. This time was no exception, and so he shares with listeners his everlasting horror and sorrow. The story of what happened in the hours following the attack is in some ways more terrifying than the blow to Jim Reeb’s head.
Clark spoke at UUCC in recent years, and when I asked him, he told us he would like the opportunity to give a service at Piedmont UU Church and meet the congregation. I couldn’t promise anything because I won’t be here. But if you’re interested in hearing from one of the remaining heroes of the Civil Rights era, give him a call. He’s in his eighties now, so if you want to invite him, don’t wait too long.
— Rev. Leland Bond-Upson