In the early months of 1965, the killings of two civil rights activists inspired the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, which became the driving force behind the passage of the Voting Rights Act. This is their story.
“Bloody Sunday”—March 7, 1965—was a pivotal moment in the civil rights struggle. The national outrage generated by scenes of Alabama state troopers attacking peaceful demonstrators fueled the drive toward the passage of the Voting Rights Acts later that year. But why were hundreds of activists marching from Selma to Montgomery that afternoon?
Days earlier, during the crackdown on another protest in nearby Marion, a state trooper, claiming self-defense, shot Jimmie Lee Jackson, a 26-year-old unarmed deacon and civil rights protester. Jackson’s subsequent death spurred local civil rights leaders to make the march to Montgomery; when that day also ended in violence, the call went out to activists across the nation to join in the next attempt. One of the many who came down was a minister from Boston named James Reeb. Shortly after his arrival, he was attacked in the street by racist vigilantes, eventually dying of his injuries. Lyndon Johnson evoked Reeb’s memory when he brought his voting rights legislation to Congress, and the national outcry over the brutal killings ensured its passage.
Most histories of the civil rights movement note these two deaths briefly, before moving on to the more famous moments. Jimmie Lee and James is the first book to give readers a deeper understanding of the events that galvanized an already-strong civil rights movement to one of its greatest successes, along with the herculean efforts to bring the killers of these two men to justice—a quest that would last more than four decades.
"We are reminded as we mark the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act that it is an act bought in blood, especially the blood of Jimmie Lee Jackson and Rev. James Reeb. The book is critical... Everyone must read it."
– Melissa Harris-Perry, MSNBC
"In Jimmie Lee and James, Steve Fiffer and Adar Cohen bring to life a watershed moment in our nation's history. This is a must-read for all who care about the fight for civil rights and the right to vote, then and now."
– Julian Bond, NAACP Chairman Emeritus
"This is the untold, true story behind the historic 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery. A well-written, well-reported page-turner about our collective struggle for equality and justice . . . hopefully the last chapter in the American Revolution."
– Morris Dees, Founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center
"Jimmie Lee and Jamesdoes an excellent job of chronicling a truly American movement. 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."