[Elijah] answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” – 1 Kings 19:10 (NRSV)
Traditions holds that biblical prophets were frequently killed in the line of duty. There is little evidence for that beyond the above verse. Although Hebrew prophets routinely put themselves in hot water, the Bible only names one, Zechariah, who was killed (2 Chronicles 24: 20–22).
Modern prophets are much more likely to die for their message and deeds, particularly those who advocate for the rights and agency of Black people. Martin Luther King, Jr., is a famous example, but let’s not forget people like:
- Rev. George Lee, one of the first Black people registered to vote in Humphreys County, who used his pulpit and his printing press to urge others to vote. White officials offered Lee “protection” on the condition he end his voter registration efforts. Lee refused and was murdered May 7, 1955, in Belzoni, Mississippi.
- Herbert Lee worked with civil rights leader Bob Moses to help register Black voters and was killed by a state legislator who claimed self-defense and was never arrested. Louis Allen, a Black man who witnessed the murder was later killed on September 25, 1961, in Liberty, Mississippi.
- Medgar Evers directed the NAACP in Mississippi and was leading a campaign for integration in Jackson when he was killed by a sniper at his home on June 12, 1963, in Jackson, Mississippi.
- Rev. James Reeb, a Unitarian minister from Boston, was among many white clergymen who joined the Selma marchers after the attack by state troopers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Reeb was beaten to death by white men in public on March 11, 1965, in Selma, Alabama.
- Jonathan Myrick Daniels, an Episcopal Seminary student in Boston, went to Alabama to help with Black voter registration. He was arrested, jailed, and then suddenly released. Moments after his release, he was shot to death by a deputy sheriff on August 20, 1965, in Hayneville, Alabama.
- Vernon Ferdinand Dahmer, a wealthy businessman, offered to pay poll taxes for those who couldn’t afford the fee required to vote. The next day his home was firebombed. Dahmer died later from severe burns on January 10, 1966, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
God of justice, one of your prophets said that if I haven’t found something I am willing to die for, I am not fit to live. Make it plain and give me the courage to go all in, come what may.