Some know about “Bloody Sunday,” a voting rights march that began in Selma, AL and ended in violence. However, few know about Jimmie Lee Jackson, an activist whose death was the catalyst for the march in Selma, which lead to the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Jimmie Lee Jackson was a young man from Alabama who tried to register to vote numerous times but was denied due to the color of his skin. On February 18, 1965, when Jimmie was 26, he, his mother Viola Jackson, and his 82 year old grandfather Cager Lee, participated in a protest in Marion, AL. Protesters were attacked by state troopers and Jimmie and his grandfather sought refuge in a restaurant, Mack’s Cafe. In the cafe, Jimmie’s mother was being attacked by two state troopers. Jimmie went to her rescue, was thrown by a state trooper into a cigarette machine, and shot twice in the stomach by state trooper James Bonard Fowler.
Jimmie was taken to the Good Samaritan hospital in Selma, AL and appeared to be recovering. However, days later, Jimmie died.
The Black community was outraged. Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) organizer James Bevel stated “We will march Jimmie’s body to the state capitol in Montgomery and lie it on the steps so Governor George Wallace can see what he’s done.” While they did not do that, activists did plan a 54 mile march from Selma to Montgomery, AL on Sunday March 7, 1965, four days after Jimmie’s funeral. However, activists were met with violence at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, in what is know known as “Bloody Sunday.”
In 2007, James Bonard Fowler (at the age of 74) was indicted for the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson. He pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter and served five months in prison.
Today, we remember Jimmie Lee Jackson, whose life was taken seeking justice. Many do not know his name or his story but his life and death played a major role in Black people gaining the right to vote in America.
Click here to read more about Jimmie Lee Jackson.