About a hundred had exited the church when they heard the voice of Sheriff T.O. Harris, amplified over a loudspeaker: "This is an unlawful assembly. You are hereby ordered to disperse. Go home or go back in the church."
James Dobynes, a church minister, called out: "May we pray before we go back?"
Harris did not respond. Suddenly, all the streetlights went out. Within seconds, reporters began to hear wood cracking against bone, thudding into flesh, people screaming. Using their clubs, two state troopers began beating the minister, who had gone to his knees to pray and now cried out: "Jesus! Oh, Jesus! Have mercy. Jesus!"
Local thugs joined in the melee, attacking churchgoers as well as reporters and photographers. NBC reporter Richard Valeriani was clubbed and suffered a bloody head wound. Someone slugged UPI photographer Pete Fisher while others took his camera and smashed it on the ground. Other photographers had their cameras sprayed with black paint. As a result, not one photo of this bloody police riot was taken. (Many years later, artist Jonathan Frost created a series of paintings based on historical accounts of the riot and events that followed.)
The church's doorway was jammed. People could not go back; so, they began to run, seeking refuge in a neighboring funeral parlor, homes and other buildings close to the church. Jimmie Lee tried to shepherd his mother and 82-year-old grandfather to safety, but a trooper knocked the older man to the ground. Jimmie Lee picked him up and carried him into Mack's Cafe, where a dozen or more people had sought sanctuary. On Col. Lingo's orders, state troopers charged into the cafe and began swinging their clubs, smashing the light fixtures, spewing glass throughout the room until all that was left was one bare bulb in a far corner.
One trooper knocked Viola Jackson to the floor. When Jimmie Lee sprang forward to shield his mother, the trooper grabbed Jackson and pushed him into a cigarette machine. Without warning, a second trooper, James Bonard Fowler, drew his revolver and shot Jackson twice in the abdomen. The powder burns on Jackson's torso indicated the unarmed man had been shot at point-blank range.
Friday, February 19, 2010
Remembering Jimmie Lee Jackson
A Huffington Post article remembers Jimmie Lee Jackson, whose murder helped lead to the Voting Rights Act of 1965: