COVID claims Twin Cities writer, activist Mel Reeves

Mel Reeves speaks at a press conference
Mel Reeves speaks at a March 2016 press conference after the Hennepin County Attorney's Office declined to indict police officers in the death of Jamar Clark.
Christopher Juhn for MPR News 2016

Updated 2:22 p.m.

Mel Reeves, a longtime Twin Cities writer and activist, died from complications of COVID-19.

Reeves, 64, spent decades chronicling and participating in the region’s protest movements. The publisher of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder newspaper, where Reeves worked as community editor, said he embodied the newspaper’s tradition as a "voice for the voiceless."

The paper on Thursday announced Reeves’ death.

Reeves was passionate about telling stories that helped shed light on important issues in the Twin Cities, said Larry Fitzgerald Sr., a longtime columnist, reporter and editor at the Spokesman-Recorder who knew Reeves for 25 years.

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"He was just a terrific, passionate person always about community relations and making sure that things were fair for everybody,” he said.

In early April, Reeves was a guest on MPR News host Angela Davis' program during the trial of Derek Chauvin for the killing of George Floyd while in police custody. Reeves, who spent years protesting against police violence, explained how he viewed his role in media.

"I think I give people full disclosure, ‘cause if people look me up and they see me as an activist, it may puzzle some folks. So, you know, I'm an activist slash journalist,” he said in the interview.

While hospitalized with COVID late last year, Reeves urged people to be safe and wear masks. Reeves hadn’t received the vaccine. But he was concerned about his health and wore masks, said Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights attorney who knew Reeves well and spoke with him recently about his vaccination status.

“I was totally shocked when he called me to tell me he had COVID because of all the times we were out there marching … and he was fine,” Levy Armstrong said.

Reeves started to speak out while he was in the hospital about the importance of vaccination, said Tracey Williams-Dillard, publisher of the Spokesman-Recorder, the oldest continually publishing Black newspaper in the United States.

In his final days, Reeves asked Williams-Dillard to bring his computer to his hospital room.  

“He wanted to write. He wanted to hang on to life. He wanted to live through his writing,” Williams-Dillard said. “He was determined to continue to write, despite the fact that he couldn’t hardly breathe.” 

From his hospital bed, Reeves wrote the Spokesman-Recorder’s final front-page story of 2021.

His final piece ended: “Yes, the year was long, but we endured, and with the spirit of our ancestors we look ahead, never satisfied to just endure but to endure until we overcome.” 

Reeves’ health had declined in recent days and he was moved to intensive care, Williams-Dillard said.

“He called me up one day, maybe about three days before he passed, and he said, ‘Tracey, I just want to tell you something.’ And I said, ‘What’s that, Mel?’ And he said, ‘Tracey, I love you. And I love the Spokesman.’ And I said, ‘I love you too, Mel.’”

MPR News reporter Matt Sepic contributed to this report.