17 February 2014

Lemuel Penn and the Civil Rights Act

Photo by David Seibert via HMdb.org
"On the night of July 11, 1964 three African-American World War II veterans returning home following training at Ft. Benning, Georgia were noticed in Athens by local members of the Ku Klux Klan. The officers were followed to the nearby Broad River Bridge where their pursuers fired into the vehicle, killing Lt. Col. Lemuel Penn. When a local jury failed to convict the suspects of murder, the federal government successfully prosecuted the men for violations under the new Civil Rights Act of 1964, passed just nine days before Penn’s murder. The case was instrumental in the creation of a Justice Department task force whose work culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1968."

As you likely (and correctly) surmise, the Klan was unprovoked and the jury that failed to convict was all white.

Lemuel Penn rests at Arlington Cemetery.

"NEGRO HERO
Educator Buried in Arlington

WASHINGTON (UPI) -- Lemuel Augustus Penn, Negro educator who was slain by a sniper's shotgun blast as he drove through Georgia, was buried Tuesday with full military honors at Arlington Cemetery, the nation's resting ground for its heroes...

Photo by John Evans via
FindAGrave
Penn, 48, who was in charge of the District of Columbia's five vocational high schools, was shot early Saturday morning near Athens, Ga., while returning to Washington after two weeks of reserve training at Ft. Benning, Ga...

According to the two Reserve officers accompanying Penn, the unexplained and apparently unprovoked shooting was done by a man who drove alongside their car in a rural section of the state, fired twice, then fled. Authorities assume the slaying was racially motivated.

Penn,...is survived by his wife Georgia and three children,...

During the services in the hot, crowded church, the Rev. Stanford J. Harris said Penn was a 'casualty of our battle against bigotry' and his death a reflection of the 'cancerous prejudice eating away at American democracy.'..." [Dallas Morning News (Texas), 15 July 1964, pg. 8 via GenealogyBank.]

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