It was the killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson that provoked the march from Selma to Montgomery. It was his death and his blood that gave us the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” ––Congressman John Lewis on Jimmie Lee Jackson
The 1965 murders of two civil rights activists––Jimmie Lee Jackson and James Reeb––ignited the now historic march from Selma to Montgomery, yet their sacrifice and impact on the movement that forever changed America has been largely overlooked. They were the George Floyd’s of their day. Two ordinary, unsung people who made a huge difference.
Most histories of the civil rights movement gloss over the deaths of Jimmie Lee Jackson and James Reeb, noting them briefly, before moving on to the more iconic moments that led to the Selma marches and the passage of the Voting Rights Act––until now, when, with voting rights under attack, it is more important than ever to understand the sacrifices made to ensure that millions of Americans of color were ensured the right to vote.
Timely to current events, JIMMIE LEE & JAMES draws unnerving parallels between conditions that spurred the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the Black Lives Matter movement today. It is educational in telling the story of a diverse coalition coming together to insist the country have a bigger conversation about justice. These efforts were principled, coordinated, and they created dialogue, enabling people to find common ground and inspiration in their diversity. Today, we are not succeeding in creating dialogue or space for meaningful conversation.
In this year marking the 55th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act, NY Times bestselling author, Steve Fiffer with co-author Adar Cohen, finally tells the world their story in “JIMMIE LEE AND JAMES: Two Lives, Two Deaths, and The Movement that Changed America” (Regan Arts). The story of two individuals––their lives, their deaths, and their impact on a movement that forever shaped US history. It is a true story of justice denied, justice delayed, and justice delivered. It is a story about painful sacrifice and the struggle to secure one of the most fundamental rights of any democracy for all Americans.
“This is the book I am most proud to have written of all my books,” says NY Times bestselling author Steve Fiffer. “It’s also the most important––offering a fresh view of how the Voting Rights Act was passed, and by telling the story of two very different foot soldiers of the movement––one black and one white who were murdered within two weeks of each other.”
Together with co-author, Adar Cohen, “they bring to life a watershed moment in our nation’s history,” said the late Julian Bond, NAACP Chairman Emeritus. “They invite readers to take a closer look inside, and give them a deeper understanding of the events that galvanized an already-strong civil rights movement to one of its greatest successes.”
The late Reverend C.T. Vivian said, “Jimmie Lee & James does an excellent job of chronicling a truly American movement. Further adding, “As the book so clearly explains, this was a struggle led by African Americans, but white Americans played a major role. Jews and other denominations added institutional support from every part of America. We suffered and sometimes died together.”
Two relatively unknown foot soldiers of the 1965 voting rights struggle were killed within days of each other: Jackson, a 26-year-old black pulpwood farmer with a high school education from outside Selma; and Reeb, a late 30s, Ivy-league educated white minister from Boston. The one-two punch of their deaths accelerated passage of the Voting Rights Act.
It raises pressing questions:
•What constitutes justice? In the case of Jimmie Lee, it took 45 years, but the white trooper who shot him, James Bonard Fowler, was finally brought to justice by DA Michael Jackson, who was the first black DA elected in Selma (ironically only possible by the Voting Rights Act of ’65)
•Have recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, actions taken by conservative legislatures, and initiatives of the Trump administration unraveled the progress made through the passage of the Voting Rights Act?
•How can a social movement overturn decades’ worth of unjust laws and customs, and transform a culture?
•Is nonviolent activism a relevant strategy for today’s civil rights issues?
•How can grassroots activists and national organizations work together to bring about political change, particularly in this time of systemic attempts to suppress the right to vote––especially the rights of people of color as the election approaches?
Author Melissa Harris-Perry says, “We are reminded as we mark the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act that it is an act brought in blood, especially the blood of Jimmie Lee Jackson and Reverend James Reeb. The book is critical––everyone must read it,”
The late Congressman John Lewis said, “Jimmie Lee Jackson, along with so many others, must be looked up on as the fathers and mothers of America. His death, with others, has liberated not just a people, but a nation. An because of what he did and so many others did, President Johnson came to the Congress, made a dramatic speech, unbelievable address, to the Congress, and presented the Voting Rights act.”
“At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom.”––President Lyndon Johnson
The Book is available online at Amazon.com