James Bonard Fowler

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James Bonard Fowler
Born(1933-09-10)September 10, 1933
DiedJuly 5, 2015(2015-07-05) (aged 81)
Geneva County, Alabama, U.S.
OccupationAlabama state trooper
Criminal chargeMurder[1][2]

James Bonard Fowler (September 10, 1933 – July 5, 2015) was an American policeman who was a significant player in escalating the acute racial conflict that led to the Selma to Montgomery marches in the Civil Rights Movement.[3] As a corporal in the Alabama State Police in 1965, he shot and killed an unarmed black man, Jimmie Lee Jackson, a killing that went without justice for 45 years.[1][3] He was convicted of manslaughter decades after the incident.

He was also under investigation by the FBI for the 1966 shooting death of a second black man, Nathan Johnson, shot one year after Jackson.[4]


Shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson[edit]

On the night of February 18, 1965, around 500 people left Zion United Methodist Church in Marion, Alabama and attempted to peacefully walk to the City Jail about a half a block away where a young Civil Rights worker was being held. The march was to protest his arrest and sing hymns. They were met by a crowd of Marion City police officers, sheriff's deputies and Alabama State Troopers. In the standoff, streetlights were abruptly turned off (Some sources say that they were shot out by the police.[5]) and the police began to beat the protestors.[3][5] Two United Press International photographers were beaten by the police and their cameras were smashed. 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson, his mother, Viola Jackson and his 82-year-old grandfather, Cager Lee and others ran into Mack's Café pursued by about ten Alabama State Troopers. Police clubbed Cager Lee to the floor and his daughter, Viola rushed to his aid. Jimmie Jackson went to his mother's aid and was shot twice in the abdomen by Fowler. He died on February 26, 1965.[3]

Fowler claimed that he acted in self-defense after Jackson grabbed his gun from its holster.[2]


This incident provided the primary catalyst for the first Selma to Montgomery march that occurred a few days later on "Bloody Sunday", March 7, 1965.[3]

Delayed justice[edit]

A grand jury declined to indict Fowler in September 1965, identifying him only by his surname ("Fowler").[3]

Interviewed some time after the incident, Fowler stated:

I don't remember how many times I pulled the trigger, but I think I just pulled it once, but I might have pulled it three times. I don't remember. I didn't know his name at the time, but his name was Jimmie Lee Jackson. He weren't dead. He didn't die that night. But I heard about a month later that he died.[3]

After the shooting, Fowler returned to his duties as a State Trooper. He was transferred to Birmingham, Alabama, and promoted. He states that he never got so much as a letter of reprimand.[3]

On May 10, 2007, 42 years after the homicide, Fowler was charged with first degree and second degree murder for the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson and subsequently surrendered to authorities.[2]

Fowler pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree manslaughter on November 15, 2010.[1] Fowler apologized for the shooting but insisted that he had acted in self-defense, believing that Jackson was trying to grab his gun.[1] Fowler was sentenced to six months in prison[1] and was released early after serving five months due to health problems which required surgery.[6]

Shooting of Nathan Johnson[edit]

In 2011, FBI officials announced that they are seeking information about the May 8, 1966 death of 34-year-old Nathan Johnson.[4] Johnson had been arrested for suspicion of drunken driving on US Highway 31 and was fatally shot, allegedly by Fowler, at the Alabaster, Alabama Police Department.[4][7] At the time, press quoted authorities as saying Johnson had grabbed a billy club from Fowler and was attacking him when the officer shot Johnson twice in the chest.[7]

Dismissal from State Police[edit]

Fowler was dismissed from the state police in 1968 for severely beating his supervisor.[8]

His supervisor, Sergeant T. B. Barden, stated that Fowler was angry about a poor job evaluation and attacked him as he was getting into his car. Fowler and his attorney George Beck stated that Fowler had taken time off to mourn with his mother and that the troopers did not give him sick leave for the absence. In the melee Barden's head was rammed into a windshield. He was knocked unconscious and taken by ambulance to a Birmingham hospital.[9]

In 2007 Barden stated that after Fowler returned from Vietnam he called Barden and that they had a nice talk. Barden said that he bore no ill will toward Fowler.[10]

Army Service[edit]

Fowler served in Vietnam and was awarded two silver stars and a purple heart for his service. He also testified in a case involving a alleged murder-for-hire plot in which an Army sergeant wanted to kill his captain. Fowler was convicted by Thai authorities of heroin trafficking and served about five years in prison.[8]

Later Life[edit]

In his later years Fowler worked as a farmer in Geneva County, Alabama and lived there with his wife.[8]

Fowler stated that he respects black leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Colin Powell, but did not think that blacks and whites should mix.[8]


Fowler died of pancreatic cancer on July 5, 2015 in Geneva County, Alabama at the age of 81.[11][12]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Brown, Robbie (November 15, 2010). "45 Years Later, an Apology and 6 Months". New York Times. Retrieved November 16, 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d "Nation in Brief: Indictment Brought in Civil-Rights-Era Death". The Washington Post. May 10, 2007. pp. A08. Retrieved January 21, 2008
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Fleming, John (March 6, 2005). "The Death of Jimmy Lee Jackson". Anniston Star. Archived from the original on November 24, 2010. Retrieved January 21, 2008
  4. ^ a b c Associated, Press (November 24, 2009). "FBI: Ex-Alabama trooper Fowler's 1966 killing of black man in Alabaster jail still probed". Anniston Star. Archived from the original on December 6, 2010. Retrieved February 3, 2011.
  5. ^ a b Davis, Townsend (1998). Weary Feet, Rested Souls: A Guided History of the Civil Rights Movement. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 121, 122. ISBN 0-393-04592-7
  6. ^ uncredited (July 7, 2011). "Former Alabama state trooper James Fowler freed in civil rights killing". Associated Press. Retrieved October 7, 2013.
  7. ^ a b Associated, Press (November 24, 2009). "FBI says ex-trooper's 1966 killing of black probed". Anniston Star. Archived from the original on December 6, 2010. Retrieved February 3, 2011.
  8. ^ a b c d Bernstein, Adam (July 8, 2015). "James Bonard Fowler dies; Alabama lawman was convicted 45 years after killing civil rights protester". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 12, 2018.
  9. ^ Rawls, P. (2007, May 12). "Ex-trooper had rollercoaster career: man charged in historic killing was later fired for other reasons". The Charleston Gazette (subscription required)
  10. ^ Fleming, J. (2007, May 10). "State records: Fowler discharged after he beat superior officer". McClatchy - Tribune Business News (Subscription required).
  11. ^ Schapiro, Rich (July 7, 2015). "Ex-Ala. trooper whose killing of protester sparked 1965 civil rights marches dies at 81". Daily News. New York City.
  12. ^ Bernstein, Adam (July 8, 2015). "James Bonard Fowler dies; Alabama lawman was convicted 45 years after killing civil rights protester". The Washington Post.