On March, 15, 1965, Archbishop Iakovos joined Martin Luther King, Jr. in an historic civil rights march. Prior to the march, a memorial service was held for Rev. James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister who had been beaten to death by the Ku Klux Klan a few days earlier, for his commitment to improving housing in poor, black neighborhoods. Archbishop Iakovos’ words at the memorial follow.
I came to this memorial service because I believe this is an appropriate occasion not only to dedicate myself as well as our Greek Orthodox communicants to the noble cause for which our friend, the Reverend James Reeb, gave his life; but also in order to show our willingness to continue this fight against prejudice, bias, and persecution.
In this God-given cause, I feel sure that I have the full and understanding support of our Greek Orthodox faithful of America.
For our Greek Orthodox Church and our people fully understand from our heritage and our tradition such sacrificial involvements.
Our Church has never hesitated to fight, when it felt it must, for the rights of mankind; and many of our Churchmen have been in the forefront of these battles time and again….The ways of God are not always revealed to us, but certainly His choice of this dedicated minister to be the victim of racial hatred and the hero of this struggle to gain unalienable constitutional rights for those American brethren of ours who are denied them, and to die, so to speak, on this battlefield for human dignity and equality, was not accidental or haphazard.
Let us seek out in this tragedy a divine lesson for all of us. The Reverend Reeb felt he could not be outside the arena of this bitter struggle, and we, too, must feel that we cannot. Let his martyrdom be an inspiration and a reminder to us that there are times when we must risk everything, including life itself, for those basic American ideals of freedom, justice, and equality, without which this land cannot survive. Our hope and prayer, then, is that we may be given strength to let God know by our acts and deeds, and not only by our words, that like the late Reverend James Reeb, we, too, are the espousers and the fighters in a struggle for which we must be prepared to risk our all.