Sins of a fallen civil rights hero

jameslbevel narrowweb  300x413 0It was one of those ugly newspaper stories that makes you read and read until it becomes hard to turn away -- kind of like seeing a car wreck happen in slow motion. The details are terrible enough in and of themselves, focusing on the sentencing of former civil rights leader James Luther Bevel to 15 years in prison for having sex with one of his daughters.

Bevel is, in his own right, a lesser known but still historic figure (details here). He was a key aide to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and was especially influential on matters related to Vietnam. He was the composer of many "freedom songs" in the Civil Rights Movement and helped organize the March on Washington. Later in life, he shifted to the right and was a vocal supporter of the election of Ronald Reagan to the White House.

What made me keep reading was Bevel's refusal to take responsibility for his own actions. Why is that so important? Keep reading.

We are told, in reporter Jonathan Mummolo's Washington Post story:

When Bevel took the stand at his sentencing hearing, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Gigi Lawless asked whether he accepted responsibility for his actions. He said he did not but added that he hoped to reconcile with his family.

Bevel was convicted of unlawfully committing fornication with his daughter Aaralyn Mills sometime between 1992 and 1994, when she was 14 or 15. The Washington Post does not identify victims of sexual assault without their permission. Mills agreed to be named. ...

In testimony... Mills, 30, said she was saddened by the fact that Bevel had not owned up to what he had done to her.

"I never imagined he would lie," Mills said. "He's been violent, mean, abusive, but he's always been honest."

Putting this into religious language, Bevel refused to repent. This kind of language is important because of a several key details that a buried far down in the Post account.

This story, you see, is haunted on several levels and the details get worse and worse.

During the trial, Bevel said repeatedly that he did not have sex with Mills. He said he has had 16 children through relationships with seven women and testified that as a minister and teacher, he has often educated people, including his children, on the "science" of sex and marriage. ...

Outside court, Mills said she has forgiven her father.

"Forgiveness is not about him; it's about my peace of mind," she said. "The reality is, he doesn't forgive himself."

On one level, the former copy editor in me was left asking this question: If Bevel is still a minister, what kind of minister is he? Why wasn't he identified on first reference as the Rev. James Luther Bevel? At the same time, what kind of minister has 16 children through relationships -- note, not marriages -- to seven women?

Attempting to look up the details only makes matters more confusing. It appears that Bevel is a graduate of an American Baptist Seminary, yet one biographical site identifies him as "pastor of the Hebraic-Christian-Islamic Assembly in Chicago" and that, as a minister, he was also a leader in "Chicago's Council of Mothers, West Side Baptist Minister's Conference, WorkShip Coalition and the Nation of Islam."

See what I mean? This story identifies Bevel as a minister or allows himself to identify himself in this manner. Is this true? Is he connected with a church or a religious movement of some kind? Why not include these crucial details in a story about such a terrible -- dare I use this word -- sin?

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