Jackson, Jimmy Lee
Jackson, Jimmy Lee
February 26, 1965
The activist Jimmy Lee Jackson was the first black person to die during the violence surrounding the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's (SCLC) 1965 Alabama Project for voting rights. Little is known about his background. He was a twenty-six-year-old woodcutter when, on February 18, 1965, he traveled with his mother and grandfather to Marion, Ala., a small town outside Selma, to participate in a rally and march in support of James Orange, an SCLC leader jailed during a voting rights drive. Shortly after the march began, the marchers were attacked by Alabama state troopers, and Jackson's grandfather was injured during the confrontation. Attempting to help his grandfather and protect his mother, Jackson was shot in the stomach at close range by a state trooper. The wounded Jackson was forced to run a gauntlet of troopers swinging their nightsticks before he was taken to the Negro Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma.
Jackson died of his wounds on February 26. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached at his funeral on March 3 and led a procession of one thousand marchers to Jackson's grave. At the funeral, an activist (accounts differ as to whom) suggested a march from Selma to Montgomery, the state capital, to demand an explanation for Jackson's death from Governor George Wallace.
While not widely publicized at the time, Jackson's death galvanized activists to undertake the march from Selma to Montgomery on March 7, 1965. Known as "Bloody Sunday" for the way it was violently broken up by Selma police, the march was a turning point in alerting the national consciousness to the black struggle for equal rights.
Garrow, David J. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. New York: William Morrow, 1986.
michael paller (1996)