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Jimmie Lee Jackson inspired Selma March

GEORGE E. CURRY | 2/2/2015, 3:41 a.m.
Although Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis captured the headlines, it was the death of 26-year-old Jimmie Lee ...
George Curry

“His grandson was helping him out of the door to get medical attention when a squad of troopers came toward them, chasing and beating people before them, and forced the two men back into the café. The troopers came inside, smashed all the lights within reach and began clubbing people indiscriminately. When one hit Viola and knocked her screaming to the floor, Jimmie Lee lunged at him. The trooper struck him across the face, and the young Jackson went careening into the floor himself. Then a trooper picked him up and slammed him against a cigarette machine while another trooper, a man named Fowler, drew his pistol and calmly shot Jackson point blank in the stomach.”

The author noted, “Jackson didn’t realize he had been shot until a few moments later, because the troopers continued beating him and the others unmercifully.”

Someone took Jackson to the Perry County Hospital. He was transferred to Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma, where he died a week later.

The state trooper, Fowler, was not charged until May 10, 2007, as a result of a cold case investigation. He pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to only six months in jail.

According to Taylor Branch’s Pulitzer Prize-winning At Canaan’s Edge, although King had preached many funerals by then, a reporter noticed “a tear glistened from the corner of his eye as he rose to speak.”

King deplored “the cowardice of every Negro” who “stands on the sidelines in the struggle for justice.” King said, “Jimmie Lee Jackson is speaking to us from the casket and he is saying to us that we must substitute courage for caution … We must not be bitter, and we must not harbor ideas of retaliation with violence. We must not lose faith in our white brothers.”

Whatever its purported shortcomings, the movie Selma allows Jackson to continue speaking to us from the grave.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service. He is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. Curry can be reached through his website, http://www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at http://www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.