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Fri, 12.16.1938

Jimmie Lee Jackson, Activist, and Minister born

Jimmie Lee Jackson

*On this date in1938, Jimmie Lee Jackson was born. He was a Black minister and civil rights activist.

Born in Marion, Alabama, a small town located near Selma, his mother was Viola Jackson, and his grandfather was Cager Lee.  After serving in the Vietnam War and spending time in Indiana, he returned to his hometown. There, he made about $6 a day as a laborer and woodcutter. Jackson became a Baptist church deacon and fathered a daughter. Inspired by the American Civil Rights Movement, he also tried to vote for the first time in his life.  He made several attempts to register as a voter, but never got past the many hurdles that had been set up to keep Blacks from casting ballots.

On February 18, 1965, Jackson took part in a peaceful night march in Marion, held to protest the arrest of James Orange, a field secretary for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).  However, the segregationists who held power in Alabama opposed even nonviolent demonstrations. That night, the town's streetlights were turned off; under the cover of darkness, police and state troopers attacked the protesters with clubs, sending them fleeing in different directions. Still pursued by officers, Jackson and other demonstrators went into a restaurant called Mack's Café. There, Jackson was shot in the stomach by James Bonard Fowler, a state trooper. Witnesses recounted that Jackson had been protecting his mother and 82-year-old grandfather from the troopers. Fowler claimed he had been acting in self-defense, trying to keep Jackson from grabbing his gun.

The injured Jackson was first taken to a local hospital and then sent to a hospital in Selma.  He suffered for a week before dying from his infected wound on February 26, 1965, at the age of 26. Though Al Lingo, head of the state troopers, had sent an arrest warrant to Jackson while he was in the hospital, Fowler had faced no punishment or disciplinary action and was allowed to continue in his job.  On March 3, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at Jackson's funeral, where he said that Jackson had been "murdered by the brutality of every sheriff who practices lawlessness in the name of the law."

Jackson's death also inspired civil rights leaders to hold the Selma to Montgomery March on March 7, 1965. There was a violent response awaiting these demonstrators as well: When they arrived at Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge, police used tear gas and batons against them. Images of the violence the protest came to be known as "Bloody Sunday" were shared across the country, making the public more supportive of the civil rights struggle.

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