Tuesday, February 26, 2008
February 26- A Very Important Day
Jimmie Lee Jackson was 26 years old, a church deacon, a hospital employee, and a recently discharged soldier. He desperately wanted to vote, and tried to register five times. He vowed to keep trying.
On February 18, 1965 Jimmie, his mother Viola Jackson, and her father (Jimmie’s grandfather) Cager Lee, age 82, walked over to Zion United Methodist Church in Marion, Alabama for a meeting. A Civil Rights worker was being held in the Marion city jail and the Black community was deeply concerned for his safety. Jimmie, his family, and others in the community left the church for the jail to engage in a peaceful “singing” protest—their plan was to direct their prayers and hymns toward the jail.
The group was met at the jail by a barrier of city police, sheriff’s deputies, and Alabama state troopers. Minutes later, Alabama’s law enforcement decided that church folk singing for justice was a crime punishable by immediate death.
Jimmie and his family tried to get away from the police by ducking into a nearby café. Troopers followed them. They beat Cager with their billy clubs—battering his 82-year old body. Viola tried to shield her father, only to suffer the same brutality…somehow they both survived. As for Jimmie, state trooper James Bonard Fowler shot him twice in the stomach. Jimmie died on February 26, 1965.
On March 7, in response to Jimmie’s death, 600 Civil Rights activists marched to confront Gov. George Wallace to demand justice and equality in the name of Jimmie Lee Jackson and others. The marchers made it as far as Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge. The encounter with troopers became the infamous “Bloody Sunday” captured by television cameras, and was broadcast around the world.
One month after Jimmie’s death, on Thursday, March 25th, 25,000 activists marched to the Alabama state capitol. As a result, that August, Pres. Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Fowler denied Jimmie Lee Jackson the opportunity to see his octogenarian grandfather finally register to vote.
In 2005, Fowler admitted that he killed yet another Black man. He confessed, “This was a great big feller about 6 foot five. Big feller. He was black as it would be…His name was Johnny Johnson or something; I could never keep him straight from Jimmy Lee Jackson.” The man Fowler killed, on May 8, 1966, was Nathan Johnson, Jr. of Ensley, Alabama. Johnson was shot at point blank range three times in the chest.
In May 2007, Fowler was finally indicted for killing Jimmie. Fowler boasted: "I don’t think legally I could get convicted for murder now no matter how much politics they got ’cause after 40 years there ain’t no telling how many people is dead." Hopefully, Fowler will go to trial this spring.
Today is Sisterdoc’s birthday. On this, the 43rd anniversary of Jimmie Lee Jackson’s death, I memorialize him. His sacrifice propelled a chain of Civil Rights activist events that permits me, and millions of other Black folks, to truly live today. Please, always exercise your right to vote.
(Image: Jimmie Lee Jackson)