When young black people of today’s generation hear from their elders that people sacrificed their lives for them to inherit the racial progress they see today, some of them don’t realize it.
I heard the same words from my elders when I was younger. For me, the words resonated a half-truth. I believe whole-heartedly that the life sacrifices made by people like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Medgar Evers helped paved the way for the nation’s progress toward racial equality. However, I believe that the so-called “progress” is not as great as some ideologists would make it out to be. America indeed has a long way to go in the path toward eradicating severe inequalities based on race.
I also believe that lots of the heroes who lost their lives in America’s struggle for the civil rights of black people have been purposely overlooked. One case of a forgotten legacy can be exemplified by the life of Jimmie Lee Jackson, (pictured) a civil rights activist who was shot to death by an Alabama State Trooper during a peaceful 1965 rally.
Jackson was born in Alabama in December of 1938. He was raised in the black church and was deeply inspired by the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He eventually became a deacon at the St. James Baptist Church in Marion, Alabama. Jackson was ordained by the church in the summer of 1964 at the age of 25.
Jackson believed that voting was indeed a human right even though his attempts to do so were constantly denied by the searing restrictions of the south’s Jim Crow Laws. He started attending voting rights meetings in Alabama organized by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Jackson’s desire to advocate voting rights for black people would eventually cost him his life.
On the night of February 18, 1965 in Marion, Alabama, Jackson and about 500 people embarked on a peaceful march from Zion United Methodist Church to the Perry County Jail. The march was organized to protest the wrongful incarceration of James Orange, a young civil rights worker who was fighting for black people’s right to vote in Marion.
The peaceful march was impeded by Marion City Police Officers, Perry County Sheriff’s Deputies, and Alabama State Troopers. Officers from all three law enforcement bureaus violently converged on the peaceful crowd like a pack of wild hyenas. They turned off the city’s streetlights and began beating the protesters unmercifully. Even members of the media who were covering the peaceful marched were beaten so severely that they had to be hospitalized.
Jimmie Lee Jackson was trying to protect his mother and his 82-year-old grandfather from the savage behavior of the law enforcement officers. However, officers eventually got to both of them and unleashed their batons against the unarmed members of Jackson’s family. As they were being brutally beaten, Jimmie Lee Jackson tried to intervene to help them. Unarmed as he attempted to do so, he was shot twice in his abdomen by an Alabama State Trooper. He eventually died from his wounds at a Selma, Alabama hospital on February 26, 1965.
On May 10, 2007, justice appeared to be served for the family of Jimmy Lee Jackson. James Bernard Fowler, the Alabama State Trooper who admitted to shooting Jackson was charged with first-degree murder in the 1965 homicide. However in a November 15, 2010 plea agreement, Fowler was sentenced to six months in jail after pleading guilty to manslaughter. The case of Jimmie Lee Jackson is compelling proof that today’s “progress” toward racial prosperity is not a standard that America must be satisfied with. The fight for racial equality must live on.