From 1960 to 1962, James Bevel worked in the Nashville Student Movement, where he worked on the Nashville Sit-In movement, directed the 1961 Open Theater Movement, chose the riders for the 1961 Nashville student continuation of the Freedom Rides, and initiated and directed the Mississippi Voting Rights Movement. In 1967 he directed the Anti-Vietnam War Movement, and in 1995 co-initiated the Day of Atonment/Million Man March.
Then, in 1962, after several years in the Nashville Student Movement, Jim Bevel was invited to meet with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Atlanta, and the two of them agreed to work together on an equal basis on several projects together under the auspices of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Bevel became SCLC's Director of Direct Action and Nonviolent Education, and soon initiated, organized, and directed the 1963 Children's Crusade, which sparked international public outrage over the City of Birmingham, Alabama's use of fire hoses and dogs to stop elementary and high school children from marching to talk to the city's mayor.
During the Birmingham Children's Crusade, President John F. Kennedy asked King to stop involving children in the campaign, and King told Bevel to not use the students anymore. Instead, Bevel went directly to the children and asked them to prepare to take to the highways on a march to Washington to question Kennedy about the nation's segregation. The Kennedy administration, hearing of this plan, asked SCLC's leaders what they would want to see in a comprehensive civil rights bill, which was then written-up, thus ending the need for the children of Birmingham to march to Washington. Shortly thereafter, in August 1963, SCLC participated in what has become known as the March on Washington, an event organized by labor leader A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, who had been the original planners (with A. J. Muste) of the 1941 March on Washington. Just as the "threat" of the children marching along the highway led directly to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the threat of the original march led President Franklin Roosevelt to sign the Fair Employment Act, and the 1941 march was never held.
In September 1963, a bomb at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham killed four young girls attending Sunday School. Bevel responded by proposing the Alabama Right-To-Vote Project, co-wrote the project proposal with Diane Nash, and the two soon moved to Alabama and began to implement the project with Birmingham student activist James Orange. Starting in late 1963 they organized Alabama until, in late 1964, SCLC and King (SCLC and King had opposed and did not work on the Alabama Project) came to Selma to work alongside the ongoing SNCC project, headed at that time by Rev. Prathia Hall and Worth Long (Bernard Lafayette had been its first chairman). The Alabama Project and its SNCC counterpart then became known as the Selma Voting Rights Movement.
The Selma Voting Rights Movement went along with some successes until, on February 16, 1965, a young man, Jimmie Lee Jackson, went with his mother and grandfather to participate in a nightime march led by Reverend C. T. Vivian to free James Orange, who was being held in jail. The lights in the street were turned off, and Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot in the stomach while defending his mother from an attack by the Alabama State Troopers, and died a few days later. When James Bevel heard of the death he called for a Selma to Montgomery march to go talk to Governor George Wallace about the attack in which Jackson was shot. After a crowd of marchers--including SNCC Chairman John Lewis and Amelia Boynton--were bludgeoned and tear-gassed on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on what became known as "Bloody Sunday", hundreds of religious, labor and civic leaders, celebrities and citizens joined the next march. Soon after this event--a ceremonial march to the bridge to pray and turn back--they walked the 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery. Before this final march, President Lyndon Johnson had gone on national television to address a joint session of Congress and demanded that it to pass a comprehensive Voting Rights Act.
Because of the unprecedented success of the 1963-1965 Alabama Project, in 1965 SCLC gave its highest honor--the Rosa Parks Award--to James Bevel and Diane Nash.
In 1966, Bevel chose Chicago as the site of SCLC's long-awaited Northern Campaign, where he strategized and directed the Chicago Open Housing Movement. In 1967 A.J. Muste, David Dellinger, representatives of North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, and others asked Rev. Bevel to take over the directorship of the Spring Mobilization Against the War in Vietnam. He did so, renamed the organization the National Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, and strategized and organized the April 15, 1967 march from Central Park to the United Nations Building. It was the largest demonstration in American history to that date. During his speech to the crowd that day, Rev. Bevel called for a larger march in Washington D.C., a plan which evolved into the October 1967 March on the Pentagon.
Bevel, who witnessed Dr. King's assassination on April 4, 1968, reminded SCLC's executive board and staff that evening that King had left "marching orders" that Rev. Ralph Abernathy should take his place as SCLC's Chairman if anything should happen to him. In SCLC's next action, the 1969 Poor People's Campaign, in order to handle any problems which may occur Bevel took on the role of Director of Non-Violent Education, even though he had opposed this campaign from its start.
Bevel ran as the Republican candidate for Illinois' 7th Congressional District in 1984, and later ran as the vice presidential candidate in 1992 on Lyndon LaRouche's ticket while that perennial candidate was serving a prison sentence for tax fraud. He engaged in LaRouche seminars on issues like "Is the Anti Defamation League the new KKK?
One of the campaigns on which Bevel collaborated with the LaRouche organization was a campaign claiming a huge Republican child molestation ring based in Nebraska — the subject of the book The Franklin Cover-up: Child Abuse, Satanism, and Murder in Nebraska, written by former Nebraska State Senator John De Camp and published in its first edition by the LaRouche organization.
Before his 2008 conviction (see below) James Bevel lived in Washington, D.C. with his current wife Erica Henry. He has been married four times and has 16 children.
During the trial prosecutor used as key evidence against Bevel a 2005 police-sting telephone call recorded by the Leesburg, Virginia police without his knowledge. During that 90 minute call, Bevel's daughter asked about him why he had sex with her during her teen years, and she asked him why he wanted her to use a vaginal douche afterwards. Bevel's response to his daughter was that he had no interest in getting her pregnant. Bevel's statements were used against him during the trial after he denied committing sexual acts with his daughter.
On April 10, 2008, after a three-hour deliberation, the jury found Bevel guilty and sentenced him to 15 years in prison and fined him $50,000. After the verdict and sentencing the judge revoked Bevel's bond and he was taken into custody. After the verdict, Bevel claimed that the charges were part of a conspiracy to destroy his reputation, and he added that he might appeal the verdict.