When idols have clay feet

17 Oct

I am always sad when heroes turn out to be clay puppets.

Behold Reverend James L. Bevel.

From the Enclycopaedia of World’s Biography:

Bevel was certainly one of the most influential, though least known, civil rights activists. Martin Luther King, Jr., would not have achieved many of his successes had it not been for men and women like James and Diane Bevel. As one of King’s most effective front-men and as a dedicated worker who believed in direct-action, Bevel was a dynamic symbol of the new generation of leaders which included Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson, C.T. Vivian, Hosea Williams, and many others of both local and national prominence. Although not as well-known as some of these, Bevel’s civil rights record did not go unnoticed. In 1963 he received the Peace Award from the War Resisters League and in 1965 was awarded the prestigious Rosa Parks Award by the SCLC.

(There is also a wikipedia article on him, of course)

But what became of this righteous fighter for the rights of the disenfranchised?

That forty something years later he is convicted of molesting and raping his teen daughter, with four other of his children alleging more sexual abuse.

Does his sexual deviance negate the greatness of his contribution to equality for blacks? Does it negate the fact that he risked his life simply by associating with Dr. King?—let alone the protests that he organized, or participated in, on his own?

It doesn’t, no, not in my eyes. His actions, as well as those of the others who were involved at the time, during the fight for equal civil rights in the United States have affected the lives of generations since. The lives of my children, who belong to an ethnic minority, are different than they would have been without Dr Bevel, Dr. King and so many others.

And yet I can’t help but hurt for those innocent girls.

I can’t help but wonder, how many more children he may have tainted, traumatized, scarred, through his life?


It’s never a good idea to put anyone upon a pedestal. More often than not, their feet turn out to be clay.

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