Today in black history: Civil rights activist Jimmie Lee Jackson dies, becomes catalyst for Selma march

Selma Bridge520x2

Twenty-six year old civil rights protester Jimmie Lee Jackson died this day, Feb. 26, 1965, from gunshot wounds inflicted by Alabama State Trooper James Fowler. Jackson's murder provided the catalyst for the famous Selma to Montgomery march, also called "Bloody Sunday" as protesters were attacked while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. In response to the state violence, President Lyndon Johnson asked Congress to pass a comprehensive voting rights bill. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and President Johnson signed the act into law on Aug. 6, 1965.

Today, the 1965 Voting Rights Act continues to face attacks from restrictive voter ID laws and other voter suppression schemes to legal challenges. Shelby County, Alabama, sued the Department of Justice over the law's Section 5, which requires counties and states with a history of racism and discrimination to seek Department of Justice clearance before changing any voting rules or districts. The case is now before the Supreme Court. In 2009, the high court upheld Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, but left the door open to jurisdictions being able to "bailout" of the preclearance mandate.

Voting rights opponents claim the section is "outdated," however recent elections have been gerrymandered to weaken African American and minority representation. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund states in its amicus brief to the Supreme Court that Section 5 is still necessary because "notwithstanding undeniable progress, striking voting discrimination continues and is concentrated in the covered jurisdictions."

Most recently in the town of Calera, Shelby County, the DOJ had to block its redistricting plan because it erased the only majority black district and with it the city's only black representation on city council.

It was less than 50 years ago when Jimmie Lee Jackson was killed during a peaceful protest in nearby Perry County, Ala. Jackson, a deacon of the St. James Baptist Church in Marion, Ala., had been inspired by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and the civil rights movement to get active. Jackson tried for four years to register to vote, a right he was systematically denied during that time.

According to the account in Wikipedia, the night of Feb. 18, 1965, 500 protesters 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. Jackson was marching with his mother Viola Jackson, and his 82-year-old grandfather, Cager Lee, when Marion City police officers, sheriff's deputies, and Alabama State Troopers brutally attacked the protesters. 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.[3] The marchers turned and scattered back towards the church.

Jackson and his family ran into a restaurant behind the church, pursued by troopers. Police clubbed the octogenarian grandfather to the floor in the kitchen. As the police continued to beat him, his daughter Viola attempted to pull the police off. She was also beaten. Jackson attempted to protect his mother; one trooper threw him against a cigarette machine. A second trooper shot Jimmie Lee twice in the abdomen. Fowler later admitted to being that trooper. Although shot twice, Jackson fled the café amid additional blows from police clubs and collapsed in front of the bus station. Jackson died at Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma. After his death, Sister Michael Anne, an administrator at Good Samaritan, said there were powder burns on Jackson's abdomen, indicating that he was shot at very close range.

A grand jury declined to indict Fowler in September 1965. Some 42 years after the cold-blooded killing, in May 2007, Fowler was finally charged with first and second-degree murder and surrendered to authorities.

Fowler pled guilty to manslaughter, and was sentenced to six months in jail in 2010. Perry County commissioner, Albert Turner Jr., called the agreement "a slap in the face of the people of this county."

Many say the conservative Supreme Court could issue another "slap in the face" if it overturns a section of the Voting Rights Act still necessary to help ensure equal access to the ballot and democratic representation.

Editor's note: This article was originally published Feb. 26, 2013. Since then the Supreme Court did gut the Voting Rights Act. The labor movement, along with numerous other social justice movements and organizations, elected officials, and prominent individuals are mounting national and statewide campaigns to restore and improve the Voting Rights Act and repeal legislation that denies anybody their right to vote.

Photo: The Congressional Faith & Politics Institute group gathers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge prior the 47th recreation of the "Bloody Sunday" civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery in Selma, Ala., March 4.  Kevin Glackmeyer/AP


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  • The Voting Rights Act (VRA) must be upheld by the supreme court: Discrimination is alive today unfortunately; Liberty and justice for all is openly sabotaged and the Supreme Court is inviting trouble of great magnitudnal proportions if it dares to fail its ultimate mandate: to uphold everyone's constitutional rights. We not only need to keep the protections in the current Voting Rights Act, it should be expanded. The numerous despicable attempts to restrict voting made during the last election cycle are proof of that. Anyone who truly believes the VRA is obsolete needs to recognize, given last years voter suppression efforts, the Jim Crowe era is biding its time, lurking in the shadows waiting for an opportunity to rear its head once again. The entire nation will speak against it because the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is not about political parties; the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is about individual rights protection. Bank on it! it is time to review; the Supreme Court's "entitlements" as, it is no longer acting as an unbiased institution and that, your magistrates , can be amended. get up and do your job or we will make it happen! count on it! Now Even if you are dumb enough to believe that all is OK with the world and there are no reasons to have the voting rights law on the books. Then why are the the parties at opposite end's on this ? Why are the Republicans in America trying to keep people from the poles ? Well I will tell you what I think. I think there may be a dozen or two, man and women in America that have the means to buy the power it wants to call all shots in this Country. The only way they can obtain this right now is get the people they went in office. To buy them so to say. But they know they can be stopped at the voting polls.They know the more that get out and vote there chances are reduced substantially. George Will knows this and should be ashamed. He say 47 years old. Is that old ? I don't think so. Look at the constitution, at that II Amendment a lot older right. SS, Medicare, still very new in the big picture. But look at who wants to change them. Not working men and women, no the big bosses. They do not like to mach payments that is what this is all about. They did not like it back in the 1930s and they do not like it now. So Americans do not be fooled and all of you older people that now have this little benefit fight like h--- to keep it just as it is. It just might be all there is between eating and striving !!

    All the republicans crapping about The Voting Rights Act (VRA) on this board and the likes of you in the REPUBLICAN House should move aside in 2014 because the REPUBLICANS are the crux of the problem. President Obama won the elections of 2008 AND 2012 fair and square but the REPUBLICANS are not allowing him to govern through their rule of RECORD number of filibusters in the Senate and the HOUSE of REPUBLICANS has achieved nothing since it came to power in 2010. In 2014 its the REPUBLICAN's time to go and let OBAMA our democratically elected PRESIDENT rule the country and leave a legacy behind like the achievements of the 2008-2010 years when DEMOCRATS had the House Senate and the Presidency. We want the obstructionist REPUBLICANS out of the way in 2014. We want our House and Senate back in the DEMOCRATIC hands so we can govern and achieve something. All these doomsday fiscal deadlines that REPUBLICANS keep pushing on the country will haunt them in 2014!! Mark my words. March 4th 2013. Vote Democratic always!

    Posted by Ajay Jain, 03/04/2013 2:38pm (3 years ago)

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