Jimmie Lee Jackson

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Jimmie Lee Jackson

Jimmie Lee Jackson (December 16, 1938[1][2]-February 26, 1965) was a civil rights protestor who was shot and killed by Alabama State Trooper James Bonard Fowler in 1965.[3] Jackson was unarmed. His death inspired the Selma to Montgomery marches, an important event in the American Civil Rights movement.[3] He was 26 years old.

Personal background[edit]

Jimmie Lee Jackson was a deacon of the St. James Baptist Church in Marion, Alabama, ordained in the summer of 1964.[4] Jackson had tried to register to vote without success for four years.[4] Jackson was inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., who had touched off a campaign against Alabama restrictions on Negro voting and attended meetings several nights per week at Zion's Chapel Methodist Church.[4] This desire to vote led to his death at the hands of an Alabama State Trooper and to the inspiration for the Selma to Montgomery marches.[4]

Non-violent protest[edit]

On the night of February 18, 1965, approximately 500 people, organized by SCLC activist C.T. Vivian, left Zion United Methodist Church in Marion and attempted a peaceful walk to the Perry County jail, about a half a block away, where young civil-rights worker James Orange was being held.[5] The marchers planned to sing hymns and return to the church. Police later stated that they believed the crowd was planning a jailbreak.[5]

Police violence[edit]

Grave of Jimmie Lee Jackson
Memorial where Jackson was shot, behind Zion Methodist Church in Marion, Alabama

They were met at the Post Office[5] by a line of Marion City police officers, sheriff's deputies, and Alabama State Troopers.[3] In the standoff, streetlights were abruptly turned off (some sources say they were shot out by the police),[5] and the police began to beat the protestors.[3][5] Among those beaten were two United Press International photographers, whose cameras were smashed, and NBC News correspondent Richard Valeriani, who was beaten so badly that he was hospitalized.[5] The marchers turned and scattered back towards the church.

Twenty-six-year-old Jackson, his mother Viola Jackson, and his 82-year-old grandfather, Cager Lee, ran into Mack's Café behind the church, pursued by Alabama State Troopers. Police clubbed Cager Lee to the floor in the kitchen.[3] The police continued to beat the cowering octogenarian Lee, and when his daughter Viola attempted to pull the police off, she was also beaten.[6] When Jackson attempted to protect his mother, one trooper threw him against a cigarette machine. A second trooper shot Jackson twice in the abdomen.[6] James Bonard Fowler later admitted to being that trooper.[3] Although shot twice, Jackson fled the café amid additional blows from police clubs and collapsed in front of the bus station.[5] Jackson made a statement to a lawyer, Oscar Adams of Birmingham in the presence of FBI officials stating he was "clubbed down" by State Troopers after he was shot and had run away from the café.[7]

Jackson died at Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma, on February 26, 1965.[3][5] After his death, Sister Michael Anne, an administrator at Good Samaritan, said there were powder burns on Jackson's abdomen, indicating that he was shot at very close range.[7]


Jackson was buried in Heard Cemetery, an old slave burial ground, next to his father.[5] His headstone was financed by the Perry County Civic league and since his burial, his headstone has been vandalized, bearing the marks of at least one shotgun blast.[5]

Criminal charges against killer[edit]

A grand jury declined to indict Fowler in September 1965, identifying him only by his surname: Fowler.[3]

On May 10, 2007, 42 years after the crime, Fowler was charged with first degree and second degree murder for Jackson's death.[8] and surrendered to authorities.[9] On November 15, 2010, Fowler pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to six months in jail. Perry County commissioner Albert Turner, Jr., called the agreement "a slap in the face of the people of this county".[10]


This incident provided the primary catalyst for Southern Christian Leadership Conference leader James Bevel to initiate and organize the first Selma to Montgomery march that occurred a few days later, on March 7, 1965, and became known as "Bloody Sunday".[3]


  1. ^ http://www.biography.com/people/jimmie-lee-jackson-21402111
  2. ^ http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_jackson_jimmie_lee_19381965/
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Fleming, John (March 6, 2005), "The Death of Jimmie Lee Jackson", The Anniston Star (Anniston, AL), retrieved 2008-01-21 
  4. ^ a b c d Reed, Roy (March 1, 1965), "Memorial Service Honors Negro Slain in Alabama Rights March", The New York Times: 17 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Davis, Townsend (1998), Weary Feet, Rested Souls: A Guided History of the Civil Rights Movement, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, pp. 121–123, ISBN 0-393-04592-7 
  6. ^ a b Kotz, Nick (2005), Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Laws that Changed America, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, pp. 275, 276, ISBN 0-618-08825-3 
  7. ^ a b Reed, Roy (February 27, 1965), "Wounded Negro Dies in Alabama", The New York Times: 1, 10 
  8. ^ "Nation in Brief: Indictment Brought in Civil-Rights-Era Death", The Washington Post, May 10, 2007: A08, retrieved 2008-01-28 
  9. ^ Phillip, Rawls (July 10, 2008), Former Ala. trooper to face trial in 1965 shooting, Fox News, Associated Press 
  10. ^ Brown, Robbie (November 15, 2010). "45 Years Later, an Apology and 6 Months". The New York Times.

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