Fortunately, he lived to witness the death of that civilization, and of the system nurtured by it. He had something to do with ending that system nationally and everything to do with positive change locally. Reynolds died Sunday at age 82.
He was Anniston’s first civil rights leader as pastor of 17th Street Baptist Church, the historically prime leadership post for the black community. He was the first leader to make the daunting journey across the color line to open communications with the then-pastor of First Presbyterian Church J. Phillips Noble as a portal to the larger white faith community.
He was chairman of the Anniston Improvement Association, which initiated demonstrations to open employment to blacks in business. He was appointed to the first Human Relations Council, which together with the bi-racial leadership organization COUL (Committee of Unified Leadership) helped steer the community through the many crises from the 1960s through the 1980s.
His leadership was more than moral; he put his life on the line. He bore stab wounds, suffered when he was one of two black pastors attempting to integrate the public library —with approval and support from library and council leaders — and were attacked by a mob. As he admitted to friends, he was frequently afraid but his commitment to the “movement” never wavered.
“Leader” is a word used casually but it had a special meaning for Anniston’s relatively successful passage through the civil rights years. Rev. Reynolds was a leader in the sense that his people would follow him and, crucially, someone who had the authority to make an agreement — and to make it stick.
In recent years he lamented the fact that the old civil rights leaders, sidelined by age and time, had left a vacuum that was filled by bogus leaders, by demagogues, who could make noise but did not have the authority to settle issues. A city whose growing irritation with the ineffectual noise of black and white demagogues on the recently ousted City Council had reasons to feel nostalgia for Rev. Reynolds’ brand of leadership.
When he passed from the scene it was not just the passing of an era but the passing of an epoch. There will never be another time like those, which tested his talents as a moral man and leader.
The civil rights movement was witnessed by millions of eyes and interpreted by millions of different, conflicting opinions, but only those who were on the front lines knew what the struggle was like and what it meant. The Rev. Nimrod Q. Reynolds was one of them.