Interview with Rev. Orloff Miller


Rev. Orloff Miller:

Well, when we got back to Brown's Chapel after the turn-around march, we waited to hear Dr. King's explanation of why this had been and he did attempt to explain that though we never fully understood what had gone on in the negotiations behind the scene, which became quite evident later. But we did understand his saying as many of you as can, could you stay a few more days, could you remain? Well, most of us had come without even a toothbrush because we thought it was a one day event, um, but nevertheless, a number of us decided to stay, I among them.** And uh, those of us from the Unitarian Universalists had gathered outside of Brown's Chapel as a group to kind of compare notes, decide who's going to stay, who can, who can't and uh, I remember that uh, Jim Reeb was a part of the group, in fact, I had a little Minox camera with me and I took a picture of the group and it turned out it was the last picture ever taken of Jim. But, as we talked together, Jim changed his mind a couple of times as to whether or not to stay, and finally had to get his things out of a car that he'd put his belongings to go back to the airport, but he decided to stay. And a mutual friend of ours, Clark Olsen, had just arrived, he had not been part of the day's turn-around march, but he had arrived uh, late from California, took longer to get there. And um, the three of us decided to have dinner together, we'd been told that we should not try to eat in the white community downtown, but some of the black restaurants, and we were given instructions where we might find those. So the three of us decided to do that together because we had some things in common, we were all, had all worked with college students, Jim was uh, the Associate Minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington DC, before he came to Boston 6 months ago, before the march. And uh, while he was there in Washington DC, he had been our minister liaison with student groups at American University and George Washington University and, and the other schools around Washington DC. And so, that's how I had first known Jim, as a matter of fact, I had met him in my capacity as the Director of the Office of College Centers for the UUA and Jim was one of the ministers I had contact with in reference to campuses in a particular geographic area and Clark Olsen was, in a sense Campus Minister here in Berkeley for, he was the Minister of the Unitarian Fellowship in Berkeley at that time. And Clark and… Clark Olsen and I were both involved in working toward some uh, International Study trips that summer for college students – Unitarian Universalists primarily, but others as well – and Clark was leading a trip to the Soviet Union uh, and I and my wife were leading one to Europe and so it was natural to take this opportunity in Selma to compare notes as to how plans were coming for the summer. And Jim, because he knew about these trips and was interested about them, why, went along with us and that's how we happened to be together that evening. We went downtown by way of the SCLC, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference office, which was at Boynton's Insurance Company as I recall. Uh, Mrs. Boynton was a real civil rights activist in Selma and we, we double checked there about the directions to which restaurant to go to, number of people had stopped there, and they directed us to Walker's Cafe. And so we went around the block on the other side of uh, uh, where the Insurance office was, and uh, went to Walker's Cafe and found a lot of our colleagues there. There were a lot of Unitarian Ministers there that night, including Dr. Homer Jack, the Director of our office of Social Responsibility and uh, so, we found quite a convivial group and there were so many of us that the restaurant was hard pressed to find enough food. I remember I ordered steak and I got chicken. Uh, turned out to be very good chicken as a matter of fact. After we had eaten, uh, there was a phone booth inside the restaurant, and so I called my wife to let her know what had happened that day and that I was staying. This was news to her of course, but I let her know that we were safe and that things had gone well, but that King had asked us if we would stay. And then, Clark and, Jim both called their wives too from the same phone. And I went outside the restaurant while they were making their calls. I remember I bought a cigar, I still smoked in those days, and I stood outside the restaurant smoking my cigar as the streetlights were just about to coming, they were just beginning to come on, they were these sodium vapor lights, and uh, or phosphorescent, and I thought to myself, what a peaceful scene this is, it was dusk and there was nobody on the streets and I thought this could be any Midwestern community like I grew up in in Ohio. One could hardly believe what had happened on Sunday or even the events of that day, Tuesday. And then the others came and joined me outside the restaurant and uh, we agreed that the shortest way to Brown's Chapel was to turn right, and, and we did and started walking down the street. And as we started walking uh, from across the street, there appeared 4 or 5 white men and they yelled at us, Hey you niggers. And we did not look across at them, but we just sort of quickened our pace, we didn't run, but uh, continued walking in the same direction and they apparently came across the street um, from our left and behind us. And one of them was carrying a club and Clark said he turned around and saw the club just as it was swung and Jim Reeb being closest to the curb, caught the full impact of that blow** on the side of his head. He was struck down, and I, I had immediately fallen to the ground in the crouch position that we had been taught as non-violent resistors. And so I put my hands over my head and protected myself from the kicks and blows that uh, that they swung at me and Clark lost his glasses in the milieu, I mean they were knocked off him and broken, and uh, he was beaten too. And uh, I shouted, and uh, I guess shouted for help probably and they disappeared, almost as quickly as they'd come, I don't think the attack lasted more than, maybe 40 seconds, maybe a minute [telephone ringing].