Jackson, Jimmy Lee

Jackson, Jimmy Lee (b. December 1938, Marion, Ala.; d. February 26, 1965, Selma, Ala.), American civil rights activist whose death at the hands of Alabama State Troopers inspired the march from Selma to Montgomery.

Jimmy Lee Jackson, a pulpwood cutter, had recently become the youngest deacon in the history of St. James Baptist Church in Marion, Alabama before becoming a martyr in the struggle for civil rights. Born and raised in Marion, Jackson began to advocate for voting rights for African Americans as a participant in a local right to vote movement, led by Albert Turner. On February 18, 1965, Jackson and his family attended a nighttime rally at Zion's Chapel Methodist Church, held to protest the jailing of one the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) leaders, James Orange. Upon leaving the church the congregation was attacked by state troopers and local police. Inside a nearby café Jackson was beaten and shot in the stomach while attempting to protect his mother and grandfather. Taken first to Perry County Hospital, Jackson was transferred to the Negro Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma where he died eight days later due to the gunshot wound.

Martin Luther King Jr. preached at Jackson's funeral on March 3, criticizing the federal government for failing to protect its own citizens while spending millions of dollars to fight a war in Vietnam. Jackson's death caused activists to galvanize plans for a march from Selma to the state house in Montgomery. More than five hundred African Americans began the march on March 7, 1965, and were savagely beaten back by police, some of them on horseback. The brutal encounter, which became known as "Bloody Sunday," was televised across the nation, and was critical to securing national support for voting rights legislation.