[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)
Tradition 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 was one of the first Black people who registered to vote in Humphreys County, Mississippi. A pastor and printer, Lee actively promoted voter registration, despite threats and demands that he withdraw his own name from the voting rolls. Lee refused and was murdered May 7, 1955, in Belzoni, Mississippi.
- Herbert Lee, a cotton farmer, helped register Black voters in Mississippi and was killed by a state legislator on September 25, 1961; the legislator claimed self-defense and was immediately acquitted. Louis Allen, a Black man who witnessed the murder, was killed two years later after the FBI refused to offer protection in exchange for his testimony.
- WWII veteran Medgar Evers organized NAACP efforts in Mississippi and investigated murders of African Americans. 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 civil rights efforts in Selma, Alabama, after the attack by state troopers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Reeb died on March 11, 1965, after he was savagely beaten by white men in Selma.
- Jonathan Myrick Daniels, a white Episcopal seminary student from New England, went to Alabama to join civil rights efforts. He was arrested during a demonstration; on the same day Daniels was released from jail, August 20, 1965, he was shot and killed by a deputy sheriff in Hayneville, Alabama.
- Vernon Dahmer, a wealthy Black businessman, offered to pay poll taxes for those who couldn’t afford the fee required to vote. The night after this announcement, his home was firebombed. Dahmer died 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.