Jimmie Lee Jackson was a civil rights activist in Marion, Alabama, and a deacon in the Baptist church.
Jackson had tried to register to vote in Alabama without success for four years. He was inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., who had come with other Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) staff to Selma, Alabama, to help local activists in their voter registration campaign.
On this night in history, about 500 people organized by the SCLC 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. The demonstrators planned to sing hymns and return to the church, but the processional was interrupted by Marion police, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers, who stopped the marchers and then began to beat them.
Police later said that the attack was based on their belief that the crowd was planning a jailbreak. 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. The marchers turned and scattered back toward the church.
Jackson, his mother Viola Jackson, and his 82-year-old grandfather Cager Lee, ran into Mack’s Café behind the church, pursued by state troopers. Police clubbed Lee to the floor in the kitchen; when Viola attempted to pull the police off, she was also beaten. When Jackson tried to protect his mother, one trooper threw him against a cigarette machine. A second trooper, James Fowler, shot Jackson twice in the abdomen. The wounded Jackson fled the café, suffering additional blows by the police, and collapsed in front of the bus station.
Jackson, who had been unarmed as were the other protestors, died eight days later in the hospital. Jackson was buried in Heard Cemetery, an old slave burial ground, next to his father, with a headstone paid for by the Perry County Civic League. His headstone has been vandalized, bearing the marks of at least one shotgun blast.
Jackson’s death was part of the inspiration for the Selma to Montgomery marches in March 1965, a major event in the American Civil Rights Movement that helped gain Congressional passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In 2007 former trooper Fowler was indicted in Jackson’s death, and in 2010 he pleaded guilty to manslaughter. He was sentenced to six months in prison.