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LEGACY: Rev. Ezekiel Bell

  • Written by Tony Jones

Bell funeralThere may never be statues or large public celebrations to commemorate him, but if the religions are right in teaching us that there is a place where good works are rewarded, there should be a great banquet planned for the Rev. Ezekiel Bell.

Born in Clarksdale, Miss. in 1935, Rev. Bell was one who made it his mission to dedicate his life to pushing his people forward.

Like his compatriot Joe Crittenden, whose life was chronicled in The New Tri State Defender's May 17, 2012 issue, even in his 80s Mr. Bell kept pushing forward. He helped reestablish the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Memphis Chapter with Crittenden and Johnnie Williams, a fellow street activist who grew up as a playmate with Emmett Till, a civil-rights era martyr.

Like a wonderfully crusty set of musketeers, their hobby was to locate, eradicate and decimate social cowardice and injustice. Barely a Sunday went by when they weren't somewhere pushing for the rights of someone, the last public display of which was their protesting the election count in Tunica, Miss. That move eventually led to the election of Louise Linzy, the first female African-American Justice Court Judge for Southern District of Mississippi. "Joe, Johnnie and Zeke" were right there, holding signs and fighting for justice.

RevEzekielBell-1Mr. Bell played a pivotal role in the movement here during the dangerous '60s. His obituary tells the story of how his home in Huntsville, Ala. became a strategic site for strategy sessions in the fight to desegregate his home area. He was proud to have hosted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at his home.

The obituary reads"

"During the pinnacle of the civil rights movement, he invited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to speak at Oakwood, College in Huntsville, Alabama. On March 19, 1962, Reverend Bell welcomed Dr. King to his home where he stayed for the duration of his visit – thus continuing the tradition of the Bell home being the site of several civil rights strategy sessions. Dr. King delivered his 'I Have A Dream' speech at the Oakwood Gym, a year and a half before he famously presented the speech at the March on Washington."

In 1966, Rev. Bell became pastor of Parkway Gardens Presbyterian Church. His studious life included class president and valedictorian at Douglass High School, attending Tennessee State University and graduating as a minister from the Chicago Theological Seminary, a move he funded with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Mr. Bell was steadfast in finding ways to open doors for his fellow African Americans and fighting the racism that threatened their pursuit of the American dream. He served as president of the Memphis chapters of the NAACP, SCLC and never wavered in his convictions. The Tennessee House of Representatives and the United States Senate honored his commitment to justice.

Bobby White, Mayor AC Wharton Jr.'s executive assistant, only met Rev. Bell once. He was at last weekend's Gas For Guns when he learned of Mr. Bell's death, recalling something truly special.

"The actor Tyrese was here doing research for a potential role he may be playing as Dr. Martin Luther King and Mr. Bell was one of the people that he was taken to speak with," said White. "We stayed and talked with him for more than an hour. I hadn't known the gentleman or knew of him before then, but he seemed to be an extremely humble man.

"When he got to talking about some of the things he had witnessed, you got to see his eyes lighting up. He was discussing the stories of the injustices that were fought, but there was no bitterness in his tone. He just seemed to be a very humble man."

Mr. Bell was married to the late Eltie Mae Jackson. He leaves three sons, Frederick Daniel (Tiffany), John Mark, and Philip Ezekiel; and four grandchildren, Kristopher John, Jana De'Audrey, Nicholas Darian, and Ashley Nicole.

Mr. Bell's homegoing celebration was held at Annesdale-Cherokee Baptist Church, with the eulogy by the Rev. Dwight Montgomery, the host pastor and president of the Memphis Chapter of the SCLC. Burial was in New Park Cemetery. Joe Ford Funeral Home had charge.

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