Built circa 1910, this old jail is a major landmark in the Civil Rights and Voting Rights movement. It was involved in many events that occurred in Marion during the Civil Rights Era. While Selma is known for the famous marches that began there in 1965, those marches actually began in Marion. On the night of February 18, 1965, a group at the Zion United Methodist Church in Marion planned on marching to the Perry County Jail to support activist James Orange who was incarcerated at this time. The jail was located only one block from Zion Church. Soon after the group started walking toward the jail, they were confronted by armed state troopers in riot gear. Suddenly the street lights went out and violence erupted. During this incident, an unarmed participant in the march, Jimmie Lee Jackson, was beaten and fatally shot by an Alabama state trooper while he was trying to protect his family. Jackson died eight days later in a Selma hospital. His death helped inspire the Selma to Montgomery marches in March 1965, a major event in the civil rights movement that helped gain congressional passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Historical placards and memorials located at the old Perry County Jail and at Zion Church provide details about events that occurred in Marion during the Civil Rights Movement. Both the old jail and Zion Church are contributing properties to the Marion Courthouse Square Historic District which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The old jail is located near the courthouse building in downtown Marion at the intersection of Green Street and Pickens Street (Old Perry County Jail – Google Street View). Zion Church is located one block away at the intersection of Pickens Street and Jefferson Street.