Sharpton in Marion Sunday

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 19, 2005

Prominent civil rights activist and former presidential candidate Al Sharpton will be paying a visit to the Black Belt on Sunday.

Sharpton will be in Marion to take part in the activities surrounding the city’s annual Jimmy Lee Jackson Day. At 1 p.m., alongside Southern Christian Leadership Conference president (and former state senator) Charles Steele, Sharpton will lead a re-enactment of the march from Zion United Methodist Church to Perry County Jail that led to Jackson’s death in 1965.

At 2 p.m., Sharpton will deliver the Jimmy Lee Jackson Day program’s keynote address at Marion Baptist School, on Centreville St. in Marion.

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“We are always excited to have someone speak who can offer us a national perspective,” said Albert Turner, Jr., Perry County Commissioner and current candidate for the District 72 seat in the state House. “Rev. Sharpton has been involved with a presidential campaign and is a national figure, so he can offer a different perspective than we would normally see and hear on the world issues that face us.”

Several other major civil rights figures are delivering morning messages as part of Jimmy Lee Jackson Day, each at a Marion church involved in the civil rights struggle. Rev. Joseph Lowery, former national president of the SCLC, will speak at Berean Baptist Church. Zion United Methodist Church will host the Rev. James Beval, who delivered an address at the mass meeting following Jackson’s death and has been credited with the idea for the march from Selma to Montgomery that resulted in “Bloody Sunday.” James Owens, whose imprisonment in the Perry County Jail for registering African-American voters sparked the initial night-time march from Zion United 40 years ago, will be speaking at Oak Grove Church at 11.

This year’s Jimmy Lee Jackson Day will commemorate 40th anniversary of

the death of one of the Civil Rights Movement’s first and most significant martyrs. Jackson and members of his family took part in the Marion march from Zion United to the Perry County Jail to demand Owens’s freedom. When the marchers were attacked by state law enforcement, Jackson defended his family and was shot. His death several days later fueled anger for the march from Selma to Montgomery which became “Bloody Sunday” and propelled the Voting Rights Act.

“This one single event sparked and changed the world,” said Turner. “It led directly to voting rights for African-Americans. Sunday is a celebration not only of one man but a celebration of all African-Americans gaining our full constitutional rights.”

That celebration will be headed by Sharpton, who while likely best known for seeking the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2004, has long been recognized for his work in the field of civil rights. Sharpton was the first African-American candidate for the New York state Senate, running in 1978. He then rose to prominence in 1986 by leading protests over an incident in Howard Beach, NY, when an African-American man fleeing angry whites was struck and killed by a car.

Jimmy Lee Jackson Day is sponsored by the Perry County Civic League.