Alum Authors Memoir on His Experiences in Civil Rights Movement
Joining Dr. Martin Luther King in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was a defining experience for John Reynolds ’82.
The RIC grad’s recently published book, “The Fight for Freedom: A Memoir of My Years in the Civil Rights Movement,” provides an inside look at the movement’s strategies and tactics, and the marches that became seminal events in American history. It also covers the assassination of King and its immediate aftermath.
In an interview, the genlte-spoken Reynolds said the primary reason for writing the book was to educate young people about the Civil Rights Movement and how personal sacrifice can improve society.
“I grew up poor, and I saw how people were suffering,” he said. “I was angry about what I saw, how segregation was killing the spirit of people. I felt if I had the opportunity to make things better I should stand up.”
At the age of 18, the Troy, Ala., native was hired by King to work on the staff of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, where he helped people register to vote and organize demonstrations and picketing. Beaten and jailed more than 20 times, Reynolds proved to be a resilient, committed activist during some of the movement’s most difficult struggles. Reynolds said the constant danger of working in racially polarized cities took its toll. But it didn’t stop him.
He took part in marches throughout the South, including what became known as the “Meredith March Against Fear” in 1966 on behalf of James Meredith, who was injured in a shooting when he began the march on his own. In 1962, Meredith was the first black person to attend the then-segregated University of Mississippi.
Reynolds’ work in the movement eventually took him to New England. In 1968, he was assigned to Providence where he worked on the Poor People’s Campaign.
He notes that the voter registration drives he helped organize in the 1960s continue to have an impact today, opening the door for increasing numbers of black politicians to be elected to office. “Clearly, Obama would not be in the White House today without the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s,” he said.
Reynolds graduated from RIC in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. “RIC was important to my development. It allowed me to go into the world and prepared me for the seminary.” A graduate of the Andover Newton Theological School, he is an ordained Baptist minister and served as pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Pawtucket before moving to South Carolina in 2010.
Though not directly involved with civil rights efforts now, he remains active in community work, helping local groups with fundraising and organizing. His latest contribution to the movement is his book, a first-person lesson in history that brings to life once again the stories of the passionate civil rights activists – like himself – who significantly changed the country at great personal peril.
“The Fight for Freedom” can be purchased from the publisher, AuthorHouse, and is also available online from Amazon and Barnes and Noble in hardcover, paperback and e-book format. The book is available at some local retailers.