Jimmie Lee Jackson, a 26-year-old black man taking part in a civil rights protest, was shot by an Alabama state trooper on the evening of Feb. 18, 1965, in Marion. He died on Feb. 26.
As John Fleming wrote for The Anniston Star in 2005, “In 1965, there was nothing quite so dangerous as a nighttime protest in the Alabama Black Belt. Violence against civil rights workers, marchers, peaceful protesters, could flare at anytime in broad daylight. Darkness that year, however, gave cover to hatred and deepened anger.”
In response to Jackson’s death, civil rights organizers planned a March 7, 1965, march that would start in Selma and end in Montgomery. It barely got started before the marchers were attacked by law-enforcers. John Lewis, now a U.S. congressman, was at the march as a 25-year-old leader with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He was brutally attacked.
Speaking in 2012, Lewis recalled the events of what became known as Bloody Sunday:
“I was hit in the head by a state trooper with a nightstick. I had a concussion at the bridge. My legs went out from under me. I felt like I was going to die. I thought I saw death. All these many years later, I don’t recall how I made it back across that bridge to the church. But after I got back to the church, the church was full to capacity, more than 2,000 people on the outside trying to get in to protest what had happened on the bridge. And someone asked me to say something to the audience. And I stood up and said something like: ‘I don’t understand it, how President Johnson can send troops to Vietnam but cannot send troops to Selma, Alabama, to protect people whose only desire is to register to vote.’ The next thing I knew, I had been admitted to the local hospital in Selma.”
He wasn’t alone. More than 50 of the marchers were treated at local hospitals.
Within two weeks, marchers had successfully completed their Selma-to-Montgomery march. In five months, a Voting Rights Bill was signed into law.
We revisit this history to make a small point. The cultural and legal changes happened because brave souls marched on an actual road, used their actual voices to tell the world of injustice and risked their actual health in the process.
To put a spin on a popular phrase, there wasn’t an app for that in 1965. There wasn’t a hashtag, either. Many times today it seems cheap social-media activism has taken the place of actions done in the real world.
This isn’t to suggest that a modern-day John Lewis working for social change would eschew Twitter for boots on the ground. In fact, Rep. Lewis, D-Ga., is an active user of Twitter. A Jan. 20 tweet from Lewis read, “There is no sound more powerful than the marching feet of a determined people. #goodtrouble”
There is no sound more powerful than the marching feet of a determined people. #goodtrouble— John Lewis (@repjohnlewis) January 20, 2018
It is to suggest that a would-be social activist doing nothing more than posting ready-made memes, sharing the latest hashtag, arguing with someone from the “other side” or spouting off about this controversy or that has more work to do to get into what Lewis called “good trouble.”