— "Arkansas" ("Strider," Jim Benston)
June 2004

Dear SNCC and Mississippi friends,

I wish to give the background for my poem dedicated to the Civil Rights martyrs, centered in the person of Jimmy Lee Jackson of Marion, Alabama, who was shot by Alabama State Troopers on February 18, 1965. He died a week later in Selma.

I had requested a spot on the program for the poem, but due to my poverty and having to move, I was "out of the loop" about the bureaucratic problems until I arrived in Philadelphia.

When Rev. Hooker was calling up some additional speakers, I gave him a note requesting time to present the poem. He agreed and announced me to the congregation.

I gave about a one minute introduction so that people would understand the relevance and a bit of the scene and the significance of Jimmy's murder, for it was his death which motivated us to organize the March on Montgomery. I was a participant in all those meetings, and served medical duty all night in Burwell Infirmary in Selma the night of the shooting, treating the wounded from the assault on Mt. Zion Methodist Church in Marion.

We met all day on the 19th and decided to hold a march that night in Selma. When we came down the steps of Brown Chapel, we were met by Sheriff Clark's "Water Posse" on horseback and in pickup trucks just behind Chief Wilson Bakers Selma Police.

Had we not retreated into the church that night there would have been a massacre, possibly setting off a race war in America. The situation was THAT tense.

My SNCC comrades objected and said that Jimmy's poem would be more appropriate outside at the dedication of the monument. I accepted that and prepared to deliver it a few minutes later. I cannot say whether my subsequent exclusion was inadvertent or intentional. Numerous people told me to "go ahead," and so I did. I truly believed that people would respect the sanctity of the situation and the content of what was being offered to them. Some did, especially the children who tried to listen until being pulled away just before the end of the poem.

I dearly thank the 6 or 8 people who stayed to listen, and Rev. John Steele who permitted me to deliver it for him afterwards.

Copyright © 2004, Jim Benston

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