FEBRUARY 18, 1965

John Lewis, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Dr. Martin Luther King, and the Rev. Andrew Young marched in the funeral of Jimmie Lee Jackson, whose shooting death inspired the first of the Selma marches in Alabama in 1965. Credit: Associated Press

A nighttime protest in Marion, Alabama, led to law enforcement officers attacking the 500 or so protesters who were marching from Zion United Methodist Church to the Perry County jail, where a civil rights activist was being held. Police also beat two photographers and NBC News correspondent Richard Valeriani, who had to be hospitalized. 

Jimmie Lee Jackson, his mother Viola Jackson, and his 82-year-old grandfather Cager Lee, ran into Mack’s Café behind the church. After police clubbed Lee to the floor, Jackson attempted to intervene. She, too, was beaten. When Jackson tried to protect his mother, one trooper threw him against a cigarette machine. A second trooper, James Bonard Fowler, shot Jackson, who was beaten again by police after staggering from the café. 

Jackson’s death eight days later inspired civil rights activists to march from Selma to Montgomery. In 2007, his killer, Fowler, was indicted for murder, eventually pleading guilty to manslaughter, but he served only five months in jail.

Jackson’s death was portrayed in the 2014 movie Selma, and he is memorialized on the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.