A former Alabama state trooper has pleaded guilty to killing a black protester at a civil rights march 45 years ago. Seventy-seven-year old James Bonard Fowler pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter two weeks before he was set to go on trial for the 1965 death of Jimmie Lee Jackson. Jackson’s slaying set off a protest march in nearby Selma that became known as "Bloody Sunday" when Alabama police attacked demonstrators crossing a bridge. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached at Jackson’s funeral. Fowler has [only] been sentenced to six months in prison.
AMY GOODMAN: A white former Alabama state trooper has pleaded guilty to killing a black civil rights worker 45 years ago at the height of the civil rights movement. Seventy-seven-year-old James Bonard Fowler pled guilty to one count of second-degree manslaughter two weeks before he was set to go to trial. He had been charged with two counts of murder in the 1965 shooting of 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson... Fowler was sentenced to six months in prison and six months of unsupervised probation.
Jackson’s killing was a cornerstone in the civil rights movement. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached at his funeral. His death set off the first Selma-to-Montgomery march that became known as "Bloody Sunday," when Alabama police attacked demonstrators crossing a bridge, an event many say helped lead to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Monday’s plea agreement brought an end to a case that’s been 45 years in the making. In the 1960s, two grand juries investigated Jimmie Lee Jackson’s killing but chose to not pursue charges. Then in 2004, Fowler admitted to a reporter for the Anniston Star that he pulled the trigger that killed Jackson. He claimed he shot the unarmed Jackson in self-defense. It was the first time Jackson’s shooter was publicly identified. The revelation helped lead prosecutors to bring charges against Fowler.
In late February 1965 Jimmie Lee Jackson, a teenager in Perry County, Alabama, was shot and killed by a state trooper during a peaceful demonstration in the courthouse square. The black community there came together in outrage and dedication; they decided to take their grievances over segregation and police violence to the statehouse in Montgomery. When Gov. George Wallace forbade their demonstration, Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled to Washington, D.C., appealing to President Lyndon Johnson for support. Meanwhile, the activists began their march out of Selma…
“When the marchers reached the city line, they found a posse of state troopers waiting for them. As the demonstrators crossed the bridge leading out of Selma, they were ordered to disperse, but the troopers did not wait for their warning to be heeded. They immediately attacked the crowd of people who had bowed their heads in prayer. Using tear gas and batons, the troopers chased the demonstrators to a black housing project, where they continued to beat the demonstrators as well as residents of the project who had not been at the march.”
Bloody Sunday, March 7, drew the nation’s attention like never before to the civil rights struggle. Returning to Alabama, King led a symbolic march to the bridge two days later. And on March 25th, a third march began. King and some 3200 others walked east out of Selma, twelve miles a day, sleeping in fields. They arrived in Montgomery five days later, and before a crowd of 25,000, King spoke:
I know you are asking today, ‘“How long will it take?” Somebody’s asking, “How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?” ...How long will justice be crucified, and truth bear it? I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because “truth crushed to earth will rise again.” How long? Not long, because “no lie can live forever.” How long? Not long, because “you shall reap what you sow.”
Selma Civil Rights March: March 21, 1965. From left: U.S. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), an unidentified nun; Ralph Abernathy; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Ralph Bunche, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Rev. F.D. Reese wearing leis sent by Abraham Akaka.
Photo: Susannah Heschel