MARION, Ala. – About 100 people gathered Sunday in a small wooden and brick church in the city where it all began, Marion Ala., a rural town with few stoplights and less than 3,600 residents, to honor the 54th Annual Jimmie Lee Jackson Day.
The shots fired in 1965 that would eventually lead to Jackson’s death eight days later were the catalyst for the voting rights march known as “Bloody Sunday,” a day that meant Alabama and the rest of the country would never be the same.
The Perry County Civic League organized a celebration of Jackson’s sacrifice at Marion Baptist Academy hosted by Albert Turner Jr., son of Albert Turner Sr., the civil rights activist and advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. who organized the peaceful-turned-violent march where Jackson and others were beaten in the streets.
“None of this was possible without Marion. Negroes in Selma weren’t marching for nothing. It was folks in Marion who started this fire, so I give homage to Jimmie Lee Jackson and his family. It is a very hard sacrifice to give a life but God calls upon us to give so much to teach others,” Alabama state Sen. Bobby Singleton said.
Marion, the seat of Perry County and the second-poorest county in Alabama, is the hidden gem of the civil rights movement.
“As we go through our history in this state, it’s not about his story. It’s about our history. And if we don’t teach our children our history, then it will always be just his story,” said Singleton, expressing the importance of educating youth on the violence and darkness that surrounded the Black Belt of Alabama during the ’60s.
Jackson was a deacon at St. James Baptist Church in Marion, and a Freemason. In honor of Lee’s sacrifice, over 30 members of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons of Alabama were in attendance.
“Jimmie Lee Jackson made a sacrifice and we, too, should make sacrifices,” said Most Worshipful Grand Master Corey Hawkins Sr. “Whether it be the sacrifice of our time, our finances or our talents, we all have something we can sacrifice so that we can move our people forward to help make mankind better.”
Others in attendance were Cheryl Williams, Perry County School Board of Education, Judge Marvin Wiggins, 4th Judicial Circuit Court, and Rep. Malika Sanders Fortier.
Fortier encouraged the crowd to attend the largest annual civil rights commemoration in the country, the Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee, where Hillary Clinton will be supporting the Lift Our Vote 2020 initiative. On March 3, 400 people will lay on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma to demonstrate the impact of Bloody Sunday, slavery, and the civil rights movement’s unfinished business in 2019.
Many awards were given, including 57 gold medals of achievement to Perry County teachers with their B.S. in early childhood and elementary education, and the Mrs. Normareen Shaw in posthumous, an eye witness to the shooting of Jackson.
“She wasn’t scared to tell what she saw. Some of us see something and we get amnesia. Some of us see something and we don’t hear nothing. But not her,” Turner, Jr. said.
The history of Marion is not a pretty one. On the night of Feb. 18, 1965, about 500 peaceful protestors attempted to march half a block away from Zion United Methodist Church to the Perry County jail, where civil rights worker James Orange was being held. They had barely made it to the post office, just yards away, when they were met by the sheriff’s deputies and state troopers, who shot out the street lights, beat them with clubs in pitch darkness, smashed their cameras, and sent them scrambling in various directions for safety.
Jackson, his mother, and his 82-year-old grandfather fled to Mack’s Cafe, located just behind the church. As he tried to protect his mother, state troopers clubbed him to the floor, threw him against a cigarette machine, and shot him twice in the stomach at close range. After fleeing the cafe, Jackson suffered additional blows from police before collapsing in front of the bus station.
He is buried next to his father in Heard Cemetery, an old slave burial ground. His headstone has suffered vandalism, and at least one shotgun blast.
The story of Jackson’s death and the violent history of Marion are often overshadowed by the proceeding events in Selma. However, Perry County is where it all began, which is why the community is making such an effort to educate the youth on the power of sacrifice.
The Sprott Community Choir performed songs such as ‘How Great is Our God” and “Hold On, Change is Coming,” but one song in particular drew a roaring applause: “Glory” from the soundtrack of the movie “Selma,” sang by Malachi, 12.
“We were motivated to do this song because it’s Black History Month, and I feel bad for all the people that died for us to have the chance to be here today,” said Malachi. “Today I learned that Jimmie Lee Jackson risked his life for voting rights, and I’m grateful even though I can’t vote yet.”
To learn more about the Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee, visit www.selmajubilee.com.