Black History: Special Delivery!!
Jimmie Lee Jackson (1938 – 1965) was born in Marion, Alabama. In February, 1965, Jackson was a 26 year old Vietnam veteran, a father, and the youngest deacon at his church. He worked as a laborer. Jackson was also an active supporter of voting rights. He had been working with other activists to advocate for voting rights in Selma and Marion, Alabama. When Dr. Martin Luther King arrived in Selma in 1965, Jackson had already attempted to register to vote several times. Dr. King decided to bring the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to Selma because he was concerned about the police brutality being experienced by non-violent black activists. He hoped to get the attention of national media outlets to the violence that was occurring. He hoped this attention would put pressure on President Lyndon Johnson to pass voting rights legislation.
Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot by an Alabama State Trooper, James Bonard Fowler on February 18, 1965. He was shot while trying to protect his mother from being physically assaulted at Mack’s Café. Jackson along with other marchers (which included his sister, mother, and grandfather) sought refuge at the café to avoid state troopers who were attempting to break up a night time march that was protesting the arrest of James Orange. Orange was a field secretary for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Marion, Alabama. Jackson was chased outside after being shot. Once outside, officers continued to beat him until he collapsed. Jackson died eight days after being shot. At his funeral, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., recognized Jackson as, “a martyred hero of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity”
At that time, no charges were brought against the officer who shot him. The officer claimed that he shot Jackson in self defense because Jackson was reaching for his gun. At his funeral, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., recognized Jackson as, “a martyred hero of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity”.
It took 45 years to bring closure in the case. The officer pleaded guilty and was sentenced in 2011 to 6 months in jail for killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson. He was 73 years old when he confessed to the crime. Bonard was the first law enforcement official to ever go to jail for his part is a civil rights related death. He was released from jail in July of 2011.
Following Jackson’s death, SCLC organized the Selma To Montgomery March to the state capitol. SCLC sited Jackson’s death as “the catalyst” for the march. The March took place on March 7, 1965. Marchers were brutally attacked by law enforcement with tear gas, batons, and whips. Media coverage of the march produced national and international outrage. Approximately five months later the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law.