In 1965, 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson was the youngest deacon in his church. He was a former soldier, but at that time worked for $6 a day as a laborer. He had a four-year-old daughter.
Jimmie Lee Jackson tried for four years to become a registered voter, but poll taxes and literacy tests worked exactly how they were designed, and he was unable to register.
On February 18th, Jimmie Lee, along with his mother and 82-year old Grandfather marched with 500 other protestors from the Zion United Methodist Church to the city jail just a half block away, where James Orange was being held for enlisting minors to work in voter registration drives.
Half of a block.
Before they could get there, law enforcement broke up what had been a peaceful march. As the cameras of two news photographers were broken, and an NBC News correspondent was beaten so badly he had to be taken to the hospital, the marchers turned and ran back to the church.
Jimmie Lee and his family ran into a restaurant behind the church. His 82-year old Grandfather was clubbed to the ground by law enforcement in the kitchen. Jimmie Lee’s mom, Viola, tried to pull officers from his Grandfather, so they turned on her. Jimmie Lee tried to stop them, but he was thrown against a cigarette machine, and then shot twice in the stomach.
He died eight days after.
Two weeks later, the Selma to Montgomery marches would begin.
The amount of bravery it must have taken to decide to risk their lives over, and over, and over again. To refuse to back down in the face of tear gas and nightsticks, and police on horseback. To see the violence of Bloody Sunday, and come back two days later, on Turnaround Tuesday. And then again two weeks later.
Brave doesn’t feel like a big enough word to describe those men and women, but it’s all I have.
Because it is brave. It’s brave to stand up for what you believe in. It’s brave to have a voice.
Here we are, decades later and it’s somehow become easy to forget what an important duty we have in casting our vote.
But we can’t.
We can’t forget about how many people fought for our right to vote. We cannot forget about Jimmie Lee Jackson, and countless others, who died for our right to vote.
Voting isn’t a privilege, it’s a promise you make to this country, and its citizens, when you turn 18. A promise that says you will be a part of the community where you live and work.
Today, this moment, this blog post – this is the first step we’re taking to increase voter turnout.
That’s our fight now. And it’s a fight we have to win.
Join us – we’re doing something big here.