MAY 10, 2007

Left to right, John Lewis, Ralph Abernathy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Andrew Young attended the 1965 funeral of Jimmie Lee Jackson, whose death inspired the Selma march to Montgomery. Credit: AP

An Alabama grand jury indicted former state trooper James Bonard Fowler for the Feb. 18, 1965, killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was trying to protect his mother from being beaten at Mack’s Café. 

At Jackson’s funeral, Martin Luther King Jr. called him “a martyred hero of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity.” As a society, he said, “we must be concerned not merely about who murdered him, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderer.” 

Authorities reopened the case after journalist John Fleming of the Anniston Star published an interview with Fowler in which he admitted, despite his claim of self-defense, that he had shot Jackson multiple times. And Fleming uncovered Fowler’s killing of another Black man, Nathan Johnson. In 2010, Fowler pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to six months behind bars. 

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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.