James Bonard Fowler

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James Bonard Fowler
Born (1933-09-10) September 10, 1933 (age 81)
Alabama, U.S.
Occupation Alabama state trooper
Criminal charge
Conviction(s) Manslaughter[1][2]

James Bonard Fowler (born September 10, 1933) is an American convicted killer and former policeman who was a significant player in escalating the acute racial conflict that led to the Selma to Montgomery marches in the American Civil Rights Movement.[3] As a corporal in the Alabama State Police in 1965, he shot and killed an unarmed black man, Jimmie Lee Jackson, a killing that went without justice for 45 years.[1][3]

He is also under investigation by the FBI for the 1966 shooting death of a second black man, Nathan Johnson, one year later.[4]


Shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson[edit]

On the night of 18 February 1965, around 500 people left Zion United Methodist Church in Marion, Alabama and attempted to peacefully walk to the City Jail about a half a block away where a young Civil Rights worker was being held. The march was to protest his arrest and sing hymns. They were met by a crowd of Marion City police officers, sheriff’s deputies and Alabama State Troopers. In the standoff, streetlights were abruptly turned off (Some sources say that they were shot out by the police.[5]) and the police began to beat the protestors.[3][5] Two United Press International photographers were beaten by the police and their cameras were smashed and NBC News correspondent Richard Valeriani was beaten so badly that he was hospitalized.[5]

26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson, his mother, Viola Jackson and his 82-year-old grandfather, Cager Lee and others ran in to Mack’s Café pursued by about 10 Alabama State Troopers. Police clubbed Cager Lee to the floor and his daughter, Viola rushed to his aid. Jimmie Jackson went to his mother's aid and was shot twice in the abdomen by Fowler. He died on 26 February 1965.[3]

Fowler claims that he acted in self-defense after Jackson grabbed his gun from its holster.[2]


This incident provided the primary catalyst for the first Selma to Montgomery march that occurred a few days later on "Bloody Sunday", 7 March 1965.[3]

Delayed justice[edit]

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

Interviewed some time after the incident, Fowler stated:

I don’t remember how many times I pulled the trigger, but I think I just pulled it once, but I might have pulled it three times. I don't remember. I didn't know his name at the time, but his name was Jimmie Lee Jackson. He weren't dead. He didn't die that night. But I heard about a month later that he died.[3]

After the shooting, Fowler returned to his duties as a State Trooper. He was transferred to Birmingham, Alabama, and promoted. He states that he never got so much as a letter of reprimand.[3]

On 10 May 2007, 42 years after the homicide, Fowler was charged with first degree and second degree murder for the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson and subsequently surrendered to authorities.[2]

Fowler pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree manslaughter on November 15, 2010.[1] Mr. Fowler apologized for the shooting but insisted that he had acted in self-defense, believing that Mr. Jackson was trying to grab his gun.[1] Fowler was sentenced to six months in prison[1] and was released early after serving 5 months due to health problems which required surgery.[6]

Shooting of Nathan Johnson[edit]

In 2011, FBI officials announced that they are seeking information in the May 8, 1966 death of 34-year-old Nathan Johnson.[4] Johnson had been arrested for suspicion of drunken driving on US Highway 31 and was fatally shot, allegedly by Fowler, at the Alabaster, Alabama Police Department.[4][7] At the time, press quoted authorities as saying Johnson had grabbed a billy club from Fowler and was attacking him when the officer shot Johnson twice in the chest.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Brown, Robbie (15 November 2010). "45 Years Later, an Apology and 6 Months". New York Times. Retrieved 16 November 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Nation in Brief: Indictment Brought in Civil-Rights-Era Death". Washington Post. 10 May 2007. pp. A08. Retrieved 2008-01-21 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Fleming, John (6 March 2005). "The Death of Jimmy Lee Jackson". Anniston Star. Retrieved 2008-01-21 
  4. ^ a b c Associated, Press (24 November 2009). "FBI: Ex-Alabama trooper Fowler's 1966 killing of black man in Alabaster jail still probed". Anniston Star. Retrieved 3 February 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c Davis, Townsend (1998). Weary Feet, Rested Souls: A Guided History of the Civil Rights Movement. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 121, 122. ISBN 0-393-04592-7 
  6. ^ uncredited (7 July 2011). "Former Alabama state trooper James Fowler freed in civil rights killing". Associated Press. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Associated, Press (24 November 2009). "FBI says ex-trooper's 1966 killing of black probed". Anniston Star. Retrieved 3 February 2011.