“I was the head night shift nurse at Good Samaritan, a Catholic hospital in Selma. On Thursday, February 18, 1965, I got a call saying that a young man from Marion had been shot by an Alabama state trooper during a protest, and they were bringing him in. The young man was Jimmie Lee Jackson. They arrived about 11:20 p.m. I helped care for him until he died eight days later.
It was unusually quiet in the emergency room that night. Jimmie Lee was the only patient during my shift. The ER had four curtained stalls, and they put Jimmie Lee on the table in the second one. I pulled up the sheet. A portion of his intestines, the size of a small grapefruit, was sticking out of a hole on his left side. I drenched it with sterile saline as we waited for the doctor. Jimmie Lee was in so much pain. I tried to tell him he was going to be alright.
Dr. William Dinkins, a black doctor in Selma, attended to Jimmie Lee. We gave him morphine for the pain, then sewed up the wound and sutured the laceration. After surgery, we took him to a room on the floor.
I got to know Jimmie Lee during my shifts, and we enjoyed each other. He was a handsome 26-year-old Army veteran. He worked at a hospital and was a deacon at his church. We both had 4-year-old daughters. If he got out of the hospital, he wanted to marry his daughter’s mother. But he said people were after him and he didn’t believe he would leave the hospital alive.
Jimmie Lee told me he was part of the movement trying to register people to vote in Perry County. They were protesting the arrest of a civil rights worker on the night Jimmie Lee was shot. They planned to peacefully march from the Zion United Methodist Church down the block to the jail, but when they walked out of the church, they were surrounded by state troopers and police. The street lights went out and hundreds of folks tried to take cover, but the police beat the marchers with clubs and chased them as they ran away. Jimmie Lee’s mother and 82-year-old grandfather ran into the cafe behind the church. Jimmie Lee entered the cafe to help them. His mother and grandfather were clubbed by police and a trooper shot Jimmy Lee in the stomach.
Albert Turner loaded Jimmie Lee in the backseat of his car and drove 36 miles to the hospital in Selma.
After Jimmie Lee’s first surgery, he had an infection. White doctors came in to examine him and said he needed a second surgery. Dr. Dinkins objected, but the white doctors operated anyway. Jimmie Lee died during the second surgery on February 26. Those of us working there suspected foul play. His death always bothered me because I had assured him that he was going to be okay and live to raise his little girl.
I wasn’t on duty the morning of Jimmie Lee’s surgery. He told someone, ‘Tell my nurse that I won’t see you again, but I want you to continue. Please don’t stop telling the story and telling people to vote.’ I went to his funeral at Brown Chapel Church in Selma. Dr. King spoke at the second funeral service in Marion.
I still have my nurse’s record from the night Jimmie Lee arrived at the hospital. I wrote it in cursive in red ink in a composition book. I have given out many copies to keep the story alive.
For complaint, I wrote: Gunshot wound to abdomen. Note gunshot hole on left side. Laceration on the back of his head, approximately two inches long.
For how it happened, I wrote: Left mass meeting at a church in Marion, Alabama and went to a cafe. Was shot by a state trooper in riot with other offices and audience from the meeting. I also recorded the costs: emergency room fee, $5; suture, $1; drugs $.50.
For some people, it wasn’t enough for Jimmy Lee to die. The KKK shot up his tombstone. The marks are still there. The civil rights leaders said to keep that tombstone for the world to see. Jimmie Lee’s death was more significant than we realized. It spurred Bloody Sunday and the passage of the Voting Rights Act. He’s the reason Blacks vote today.
A couple of weeks after Jimmie Lee’s death, I was called into the hospital on my day off. It was Sunday, March 7, and a march on Edmund Pettus Bridge turned violent from attacks by state troopers. The emergency room was filled with bloody injuries, lacerations, and families looking for loved ones. I couldn’t get past the front door, so my job became comforting people and calming them down.
John Lewis was injured and hospitalized on Bloody Sunday. I helped care for him and we stayed in contact until he passed. NBC News reporter Richard Verlariani was also in the hospital with injuries from covering the marches.
In 2007, 40 years later, my notes and conversations with Jimmie Lee were used as evidence to indict trooper James Fowler for misdemeanor manslaughter. He was sentenced to six months but spent five months in jail. At least he was found guilty.
I lost my leg almost 30 years ago. I fell on the bottom step at church and hit my knee. The doctor who treated me wouldn’t listen and didn’t know what he was doing. By the time I was transferred to Birmingham, there was nothing they could do to save my leg. I adjusted to life with one leg and a wheelchair and went back to nursing. I loved my job.
I turn 85 on September 13. I was the oldest of 12 and helped care for my brothers and sisters. I always wanted to be a nurse and take care of other people. I went to school at Alabama State in Montgomery and lived with Evelyn Lewis, Olympian Carl Lewis’ mother. Carl wasn’t born yet. Dr. King was my pastor at Dexter Street Baptist Church in Montgomery. His sermons were about love, and he taught more than he preached. We were all so young and didn’t know what was ahead of us.
I don’t miss a vote, but it’s hard to know that we’re going backward with voting rights. Keep passing on this story and telling everyone they need to vote. You are as important as I am, and I am as important as you are.
I love everyone I meet. I bet you can’t beat me loving you.”