Deep into the winter night of Feb. 18, 1965, a procession of maybe 500 people filed from the sanctuary of Zion United Methodist Church in Marion, Alabama. They walked toward the city jail 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, sheriffs 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.
A few minutes into the confusion, troopers chased a group of protesters into nearby Macks Café. Historical accounts and press reports at the time pretty much agree that the following happened: As the troopers entered the building, they overturned tables and hit customers and marchers alike. In the melee, they clubbed 82-year-old Cager Lee to the floor and then his daughter, Viola Jackson, when she rushed to his aid. When her son, Jimmy Lee Jackson, tried to help his mother, a state trooper shot him in the stomach.
A few days later, Feb. 26, he was dead.
Forty years later, the man who shot Jimmy Lee Jackson sits comfortably on a sofa in a friends house in the south Alabama town of Geneva. He listens closely to specific questions of four decades ago and is attentive when historical accounts of the events of Marion, Alabama, are read to him.
Hes a slightly rotund man, yet not unfit. He dresses in a finely striped collared shirt, khaki shorts, and a camouflage cap. He shifts from time to time only to move his recently operated-on leg, the result, he says, of a Vietnam-era injury he got while in the Army.