Sunday, February 24, 2008

James Orange, "Gentle Giant" of the Civil Rights Movement, Passes

We lost another legend of the civil rights movement recently when James Orange passed at the too young age of 65. Though he carried a large physique, Orange was fiercely committed to non-violence; many called him a "gentle giant" of the Movement. Born in Birmingham, Orange participated in the historic civil rights campaign there in 1963. According to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Taylor Branch, “The children’s demonstrations in Birmingham had transformed James Orange from hulking high school drifter to precocious minister of nonviolence.” Orange also served as an organizer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and helped organize gang members in Chicago to non-violence. He was also well-known for his deep baritone voice and for his preaching. Orange was jailed and beaten on many occasions. During the 1965 Selma voting rights campaign, it was Orange's arrest - and fears he had been lynched - that spurred a protest march that resulted in the murder of Jimmy Lee Jackson by police. Jackson's death and Orange's incarceration prompted the Selma-to-Montgomery march, which was the catalyst for the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Later in life, Orange worked for the AFL-CIO where he helped organize more than 300 labor campaigns. He was also an ardent supporter of the rights of "illegal" immigrants. All tolled, Orange was arrested for non-violent civil disobedience more than 100 times in his life!

Here is the Washington Post obituary. Here is the Guardian UK obit and the New York Times memorial.

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