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Rev. James E. Orange

Rev. James E. Orange Obituary
A longtime civil rights activist, the Rev. James E. Orange, died unexpectedly Saturday night at Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta.

Orange, 65, was admitted to the hospital for gallbladder surgery last week, said his daughter, Jamida Orange, 38.

He was kept at the hospital because of complications and was scheduled for follow-up tests Saturday when he passed away for reasons that were not immediately known, she said.

"I'm stunned. Not only did I lose my parent, but I lost an actual role model, and a lot of the people in this country lost a role model," Jamida Orange said.

A native of Birmingham, Ala., Orange lived in southwest Atlanta for the past four decades, his daughter said.

"It is a great loss for all of us, including a personal loss for my wife and me," said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"He was one of the great figures in the movement. He will be greatly missed," Lowery said.

In the mid-1960s, Orange was hired by the SCLC as a field staffer -- a group that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the "ground crew."

"He couldn't afford to go to college and was working as a chef," said Andrew Young, civil rights activist, former mayor of Atlanta and U.N. ambassador.

"He quit his job and started going with us, although we were only paying $10 a week. And he never left."

When King and his fellow civil rights workers went into communities to spread the word of equality and unity, it was the ground crew's job to maintain order, Young said.

Working with King and the late Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, Orange struck a colorful and imposing figure in the civil rights movement in Selma, Memphis, Chicago and other cities. He helped organize rallies and used the 300-plus pounds on his more-than-6-foot frame to help keep them peaceful.

With a baritone singing voice, Orange also became known for his freedom singing.

Orange began working for the AFL-CIO in February 1977 and became a regional coordinator, participating in at least 300 labor-organizing campaigns in the Southeast.

And in 1995, Orange set up a committee to organize an annual march and other activities in Atlanta honoring King.

"That's his legacy," his daughter said. "Not only did he believe in Dr. King's philosophy, he lived Dr. King's philosophy."

He is survived by his wife, Cleophas, four children and two grandchildren. Funeral arrangements will be announced next week.

Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Feb. 17, 2008
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