She was too young to remember him, only 3 when Jimmie Lee Jackson died after being shot in the aftermath of a civil rights march in his hometown.
On Thursday, Cordelia Billingsley was across town from the courthouse where the state trooper who shot Jackson four decades ago turned himself in to face the law. James Bonard Fowler, charged with first-degree and second-degree murder, was allowed to remain free on a $250,000 property bond.
“I want to know what happened that night, I always have,” Billingsley said. “I want to get to the truth of it.”
In the ensuing chaos surrounding the march in 1965, state trooper Fowler shot and killed Jackson, who was 26. This week in Marion, the 73-year-old Fowler was indicted for murder in Jackson’s death.
While there is no dispute that Fowler shot Jackson (he admitted that he did so to The Star in 2005) Fowler has maintained that it was in self-defense that he shot Jackson.
“You know I never knew him,” said Billingsley, now 45. “The only memory I still have is when my mom lifted me up, and I laid my hand on his forehead. I just thought he was sleeping, but he was lying in the casket.”
Stories about the night Jackson was shot — and the weeks that followed — circulated throughout Marion on Thursday. Amzie Lucky hovered outside his furniture shop just off the town square. Smooth music drifted up from an outside speaker, sunshine bathed his store front, and a light breeze toyed with his sign.
He’s often in his cushioned chair, awaiting customers, enjoying the passing of another day in this quiet Black Belt town.
A good deal more peaceful, he pointed out, than it was 42 years ago, when violence descended on Marion, ripping open wounds that still fester today.
“I stood right up there,” Lucky said pointing to a street corner about 50 feet away. “A bunch of state troopers beat me there. I fell back and then got back up and got beat again.”
Someone, he added, took him to the hospital where they bandaged up his head, bleeding from blows he received from a billy club.
“I used to have big hair, an Afro,” he said. “They hit me so hard, it went right through and made me bleed.”
For this town of about 3,600 people, the events of the last few days have come as a shock to some, barely noticed by others and long overdue by many.
For Lucky, who testified before the grand jury, he is not only glad this day has come, he feels strongly that Fowler should be convicted.
“That man should be punished for what he did,” said Lucky.
It is a feeling reflected down toward the ABC store at the end of Jefferson Street, where a cluster of men linger near a spot where an on-going domino game usually takes place.
“I sure am happy there is finally going to be a trial,” said Eddie Lee Turner, who was 6 at the time of the protest. “It’s about time.”