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Gateway Students Embark to Selma

  • Published
  • By Major Mark B. McKiernan
  • Instructor, Operations and International Law Division
On 16 January 2012, Gateway V students embarked on an unforgettable staff ride to Selma, Alabama in honor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday. Students learned about the voting rights movement by retracing the historic civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. A momentous part of the trip, District Attorney Michael W. Jackson met with students and spoke about the Alabama criminal justice system and the prosecution of the murder against James Fowler, an Alabama State Trooper who was accused of killing Jimmie Lee Jackson. At the time of the murder, Jimmie Jackson was attempting to help his mother who was being beaten by police for peacefully marching in Marion, Alabama. The Trooper was never brought to justice. When elected District Attorney, Mr. Jackson (no relation) reopened Fowler murder case. In 2010 Mr. Fowler pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 6 months confinement.

The killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson was the catalyst for the march from Selma, AL to Montgomery AL on 7 March 1965. The march is better known as "bloody Sunday" because marchers were met by an overwhelming cadre of law enforcement officers on the Edmond Pettis Bridge. Law enforcement officers savagely beat the marchers thereby preventing them from crossing the bridge and leaving the city limits of Selma, AL. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. organized a second march known as the "turn around march, " which took place on 9 March 1965. A group of approximately 2500 people peaceable marched to the Edmond Pettis Bridge and prayed at the spot of "bloody Sunday and then returned to the Brown Chapel in Selma. With the eyes of the Nation on them, Dr King organized a third March on 21 March 1965. This time he had the protection of Federal government when President Lyndon Johnson sent military forces to Alabama to protect the marcher. Over the following 4 days, Dr. King led a growing number of people to march 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery. On 25 March 1965 the group which grew to more than 25,000 arrived in Montgomery, AL. 5 months later, in August 1965, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Bill into law, thanks to the extraordinary leadership of the brave men and women who marched from Selma to Montgomery earlier that year.