UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
Rev. Ed File, a retired United Church minister, during the 1960s grape boycott.

Interview with Rev. Ed File

The retired United Church minister, now living outside Belleville, Ont., talks about the historic Selma-Montgomery march for civil rights in 1965, in which he took part

By Matthew Behrens

Q In 1965, where were you when you responded to Dr. King’s call for clergy to join the Selma-Montgomery march?

A I’d been working as superintendent of a North Winnipeg United Church mission. We had an active community centre, the first halfway house for prisoners in Canada, and a large fresh air camp in Gimli. The social programming we ran reflected my call to the ministry, which was based on Jesus’ teachings on love and justice.

Q How familiar were you with the civil rights movement?

A I had studied at Boston University under the same people who taught Dr. King during his PhD. I heard him speak there before he became really famous. I was also part of demonstrations against segregation.

Q The year before Selma, three civil rights workers had been murdered in Mississippi. Did that news make you fearful when considering the call to go to Selma?

A No, in fact, that spurred me on. Those three young people had been very much in my mind. [I remember having] a feeling of solidarity with them and [remember] what they had done and suffered as a consequence. It was important for more of us from the North to go down and join in what they were doing.  

Q How did you get to Selma?

A A pastor friend from Winnipeg had gone south, and we’d kept in touch about his involvement in campaigns like desegregation of the beaches. His church was attacked, and he moved to Philadelphia. I called him and said, “I feel the call that I’m meant to go to Selma, and I believe you’re feeling the call too, although you probably aren’t feeling it as strongly as I am.” We flew down and met up at the home of a white Montgomery family.

Q What was the mood in Alabama?

A There was certainly some tension. When we got there, we heard the news that James Reeb [a Unitarian minister who had gone south as well] had been killed. The first night, the phone rang, and someone made threats against the family for having white marchers staying in their house. The owner of the house calmly went to his closet, pulled out a gun and put it by his front door.

Q What was onlookers’ response to the march?

A Some pretty angry white folks were yelling lots of nasty things, especially to white people like me. As ministers, we wore our church collar, and the police would yell at us, “You’re a phony!”

Q Did you have a sense of history in the making?

A At the time, it felt like part of the emerging social justice struggle that we were all a part of. This was one of many engagements that I felt called to be involved with.

Q What stays with you most when you think of Selma?

A Definitely, the spirituality and singing. One of my favourites is When the Saints Go Marching In. That song and movements for justice are such wonderful ethical examples of throwing nonviolence against violence. The saints were marching in Selma; in South Africa against apartheid; with Gandhi; with so many others. And the saints are marching still in Ferguson, in Washington, in New York — everywhere.

Q What motivates you to stay involved in social justice efforts?

A I try to see things in the framework of the teachings of Jesus and the ethical ideals of the world’s great religions. Those ideals are permanent through the centuries, and people who are touched by those or view them as the focus of their lives see that it is an ongoing struggle for justice in what we used to call the civilized world. I see that steps that we had taken toward making societies more civil are being backed away from. It’s horrendous what humans are doing to each other all over the world when we have the resources to be inclusive and to have equity for all.




Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Faith

Chris Pratt's church, while claiming to accept everyone, states in its doctrine of faith that marriage should only be between one man and one woman. (Photo: Chris Pratt/Instagram)

Celebrity megachurches need to clarify LGBTQ acceptance: pastor

by Emma Prestwich

Zoe Church, where actor Chris Pratt worships, may not truly "open their doors" to everyone, like he claims.

Promotional Image

Editorials

The United Church Observer's editor and publisher, Jocelyn Bell. (Photo: Lindsay Palmer)

'The Observer' will soon relaunch with a new name and design

by Jocelyn Bell

Our magazine will be going through some changes, but we see blue skies ahead

Promotional Image

Video

Meet beloved church cats Mable and Mouse

by Observer Staff

They're a fixture of Kirk United Church Centre in Edmonton.

Promotional Image

Society

February 2019

Marriage problems: Is the ancient tradition worth saving?

by Pieta Woolley

Bitterness and boredom seem to define many mid-life marriages, but we might not have to settle for apathy ever after

Ethics

February 2019

A Yukon artist and a Tlingit trapper create this stunning jewelry

by Amy van den Berg

The fur jewelry in Whitehorse boutique store V. Ægirsdóttir is creating a new possibility for future partnerships with the region's trappers

Columns

February 2019

Why white people need to stop asking, 'where are you from?'

by Mike Sholars

"...For all intents and purposes, Canada is the only home I really recognize or remember. But none of that matters if I look like I don’t belong, and that single question makes that abundantly clear every single time."

Promotional Image