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Deep into the winter night of Feb. 18, 1965, a procession of maybe 500 people filed from the sanctuary of Zion United Methodist Church onto a sidewalk in Marion, Ala. They walked quietly toward the city jail half a block away where they planned to sing freedom songs to protest the incarceration of a young civil rights worker. Between them and the jail stood a wall of city police officers, sheriff's deputies and Alabama state troopers. As the mass came to a stop before the law enforcement officers, someone switched off the streetlights. In the darkness came screams and the muffled cracks of billy clubs hitting people. Reporters close in to the town's square could make out men in uniform first setting upon the peaceful protesters and then chasing them as they fled in all directions. They also saw other white men dressed in casual clothes attacking anyone in their path - movement activists, peaceful protesters, bystanders and journalists.

A few minutes into the confusion, perhaps 10 troopers chased a group of protesters into a place called Mack's Café just off the city square and directly behind Zion. From that point, nearly all historical accounts and press reports at the time agree the following happened:

As the troopers entered the café they immediately started overturning tables and hitting customers and marchers alike. In the melee, they clubbed 82-year-old Cager Lee to the floor and his daughter Viola Jackson when she rushed to his aid. When her son, Jimmy Lee Jackson, tried to help his mother, he was shot in the stomach by a state trooper.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2005
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