- Associated Press - Friday, March 6, 2015

SELMA, Ala. (AP) - Down a gravel path of a winding one-lane country road, beneath the largest tree in the surrounding woods, a headstone stands tall among the others. It rests atop a six-layer bed of bricks, 3 miles south of downtown Marion.

Here, the wind whips the burgundy leaves into a neat pile among the tombs. Here, the croaks of hidden frogs and tweets from nearby birds serve as the soundtrack for Jimmie Lee Jackson’s grave.

Jackson was 26 years old when he died. He was a black man who was denied the right to vote four times. He was the youngest deacon at the nearby St. James Baptist Church.

It happened on the evening of Feb. 18, 1965.

Jackson was with his mother, Viola, and 82-year-old grandfather, Cager Lee, at a large rally that was being held at the red-bricked Zion United Methodist Church in downtown Marion. The crowd was protesting the recent jailing of a young civil rights worker.

They planned to march from church to jailhouse, singing and praying. It was a short walk, like every walk in downtown Marion. But after leaving the church, a line of Alabama state troopers and police officers stood waiting. The streetlights were mysteriously off, and when the protesters neared, officers and troopers beat them with clubs.

Jackson escaped to the nearby restaurant, Mack’s Café, with his mother and grandfather. Troopers followed, knocking his grandfather to the floor and beating his mother.

Jackson, unarmed, came to their aid. One trooper beat him; the other fired two bullets into his chest. Jackson died eight days later.

Elijah Rollins is the person who buried Jackson. He’s a 78-year-old black man with a thin white mustache and a pineapple-shaped cigarette holder on his desk. He’s the owner of Lee and Rollins Funeral Home, which used to be next to Mack’s Café before it was torn down in the late ‘70s. Today, the funeral home is next to Zion United Methodist Church.

Rollins was casual friends with Jackson. The night he was shot, Rollins was at a nearby club. He heard noises from the street and went to the front door.

“I saw everybody be severely beaten, running, trying to get away from the troopers,” he said Thursday.

Rollins had no idea Jackson had been shot. It wasn’t until the next day that he and the rest of the town learned what happened.

“There were people who were angry then that had never been angry before,” Rollins said. “As a result of this, it fired them up. People got angry that really wasn’t particularly behind the movement.

“After this incident, they started marching.”

Martin Luther King Jr. gave a eulogy for Jackson at the church, and then walked with the mourners 3 miles to Jackson’s gravesite.

Rollins was there. He remembers that it rained.

Soon after Jackson’s death, at the same church, civil rights leaders organized the march from Selma to Montgomery on March 7, which would become known as Bloody Sunday.

The protests attracted clergy from across the country, including James Reeb, a minister raised in Casper. Reeb died after white supremacists beat him outside a Selma restaurant.

Now, 50 years later, bullets have chipped the thick granite headstone that bears Jackson’s name.

“That was when the Klan drove by,” Rollins said. “I wouldn’t think anybody else who wasn’t the Klan would do such drastic things.”

There is no marked entrance at Jackson’s gravesite. His family members are all buried here. Some of them were slaves.

Lime-green moss grows thick on the bricks, a few of which have tumbled down the six-layer base. On Jackson’s headstone, below his name, are the words: “He was killed for man’s freedom.”

A wreath of red silk flowers lies on its side nearby. In the middle, in sparkling letters, reads a misspelled name.

“Jimmy Lee Jackson.”

___

Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, https://www.trib.com

Star-tribune Selma page: https://bit.ly/1wLZY2x

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