What Happened on February 18, 1965 in Marion, Alabama?

Symbolic Procession Remembers Jackson and Others
Symbolic Procession Remembers Jackson and Others

MONTGOMERY, Ala., May 6, 2007 -- Events leading to the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson in Marion, Alabama on the night of February 18, 1965 will be brought back in front of the public as prosecutors put their evidence again in front of a grand jury in Perry County this week.

Accounts over the years from many on the scene say following a meeting at a local church in Marion, a march ensued driven by concern about the jailing of a civil rights worker.  The gathering was thrown into complete pandemonium when the streetlights were turned off.  According to accounts, some of the marchers were chased into a nearby cafe where Jackson, coming to the aid of his mother was shot by a trooper.  Jackson died a few days later on February 26, 1965.

Protesters were not the only ones under attack.  NBC Correspondent Richard Valeriani was in Marion that February night in 1965.  In a 1997 Today Show interview Valeriani said he was "at one point being physically attacked in Marion, Alabama, during a nighttime demonstration, the night that Jimmie Lee Jackson was killed.  And I was hit over the head with an ax handle by a white bystander, and luckily he hit me with a round house swing, like a baseball bat, rather than coming over the top, otherwise I might not be here to talk about it."

Albert Turner told PBS "The whole town was surrounded at night by auxiliary police, state troopers,...(inaudible) and anybody who wanted to come in, really, who felt like beating folks up..."  Congressman John Lewis told the same program, "I just felt during the period, it was too much, too much, too many, too many funerals and some of us will say, "How many more? We were infuriated to a point that we wanted to carry Jimmy's body to George Wallace and dump it on the steps of the Capitol.."  A symbolic procession to the Capitol and presentation of symbolic caskets of Jackson, Virgil Ware, and Cynthia Denise Wesley was eventually made.

It was as a response to the death of Jackson that many say the March from Selma to Montgomery was crafted.

James Bonard Fowler was a corporal with the Alabama State Troopers and gave the following account at the time he was with the Troopers:

"My name is James B. Fowler. I am a Corporal in the State Troopers. On the night of February 18, 1965, at approximately 10:00 p.m., I was on special duty in Marion, Alabama, at or near the Courthouse with several other officers, when a group of people, male and female of the Negro race, congregated in front of a café approximately 200 yards from the Courthouse. This group of people was throwing rocks, bottles, and other objects at the uniformed officers, along with making profane words and remarks.

Upon orders from our superiors we moved toward the group and ordered them several times to break up and go home. After said order was made two or three times, they continued to throw articles such as bottles, bricks, and full coke bottles at us, hitting several officers. As we reached the group it broke and part of it went inside the café where bottles and other objects continued to come at the officers. I and three other officers went inside the café to arrest the bottle throwers and the bottles continued to hit us after getting inside. One Trooper was attempting to arrest a woman with a bottle and in trying to take the bottle, with which she was hitting him, away from her, when two men assaulted the officer from behind. I started to the assistance of the officer and had pulled one of his assistants off him, when he started assaulting me and trying to take my gun away from me and had gotten it approximately half way out. My assailant, being taller, heavier, and longer-armed than I, had struck me twice on the head with a drink bottle and with his left struck me twice on the head with a drink bottle and with his left hand had my pistol half way out when I ordered him to "Halt, you are under arrest", and I staggered backwards yelling "Get off, get off, you are under arrest". My backward movement away from him pulled my gun free from him and free from the holster. He hit me across the head, still coming toward me, and on the next blow which struck my hand the gun fired.

My assistant fell backwards and sat down. I continued backward till I got my balance and my assailant got up and ran out the door, knocking over several people and still cursing in a loud voice. I went over and picked up the unconscious officer who was bleeding about the head and assisted him to the door where other officers rushed him to the hospital. "

"Cpl. J.B. Fowler"