Civil Rights Leader Hears Testimony by Daughter

By Bill Brubaker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A daughter of James L. Bevel, a leader in the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1960s, testified yesterday in a Loudoun County courtroom that she was sexually molested by her father about 10 times a year in early childhood, a time when she said he also invited her to watch as he had sex with her mother.

The adult daughter told a jury that sexual activity was so frequent in their communal lifestyle in Cleveland and Chicago in the 1980s that "I didn't feel there was necessarily anything wrong with it."

Her testimony came on the first day of Bevel's trial in Loudoun Circuit Court on a charge that, if proved, could send the 71-year-old Christian minister and confidant of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to prison for up to 20 years.

Bevel yesterday pleaded not guilty to a single charge of incest with one of his daughters on an unknown date when they lived in Leesburg between Oct. 14, 1992, and Oct. 14, 1994. Virginia does not have a statute of limitations for felonies.

The incest charge was prompted by a discussion some of his grown daughters had at a family reunion about experiences with their father when they were younger, prosecutors have said. The daughters confronted their father, who said he performed sex acts to guide and train them, prosecutors said. In September 2005, one daughter filed a complaint with Leesburg police.

The Washington Post generally does not identify people who have alleged they were sexually abused. The accuser testified she is one of Bevel's 14 children, including nine daughters.

In an opening statement, Bevel's court-appointed attorney, Bonnie H. Hoffman, urged the jury to "close your eyes, take a deep breath and get rid of your preconceptions about how things ought to be," seemingly preparing them for what she warned would be graphic testimony. And it was.

Hoffman said the evidence, which includes a taped phone conversation that the daughter had with her father from the Leesburg Police Department in 2005, will show that Bevel did not have sex with his daughter when they lived in an apartment on Fort Evans Road in Leesburg. Bevel will take the stand to testify "he did not have sex with his daughter," Hoffman said.

Bevel is best known for playing a prominent role in some of the most high-profile civil rights protests in the United States.

He was a leader of the Freedom Rides to desegregate public accommodations in the South in the early 1960s, and he organized the 1963 Children's Crusade in Birmingham, Ala. He also helped conceive the March on Washington in 1963 and the Selma-to-Montgomery march in Alabama in 1965. Along with civil rights icons Jesse L. Jackson and Andrew Young, he witnessed the April 4, 1968, assassination of King.

Bevel was trained as a Baptist minister and later became pastor of the Hebraic-Christian-Islamic Assembly in Chicago. In 1992, he was the running mate of perennial presidential candidate Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr.

Yesterday, the bespectacled, gray-bearded Bevel sat quietly in Courtroom 2A, listening to his daughter allege that he entered her bedroom when she was as young as 6 and performed sex acts on her.

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