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Vernon Ferdinand Dahmer
Vernon Ferdinand Dahmer.jpg
Vernon Ferdinand Dahmer, Sr.
Date of birth: March 10, 1908(1908-03-10)
Place of birth: Kelly Settlement, Forrest County, Mississippi, USA
Date of death: January 11, 1966 (aged 57)
Place of death: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA
Movement: African-American Civil Rights Movement

Vernon Ferdinand Dahmer, Sr. (March 10, 1908 - January 11, 1966) was an American civil rights leader and president of the Forrest County chapter of the NAACP, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Contents

Early life

Vernon Ferdinand Dahmer was born March 10, 1908, to George and Ellen Dahmer of Forrest County, Mississippi. He attended Bay Spring High School.

In March 1952 Dahmer married Ellie Jewell Davis, a teacher from Rose Hill, Mississippi. Vernon and Ellie had eight children in their family, including their daughter Bettie and son Dennis. The family home in north Forrest County was part of the Kelly Settlement area. Ellie Dahmer also taught for many years in Richton, Mississippi and retired in 1987 from the Forrest County school system.

Dahmer was a member of Shady Grove Baptist Church where he served as music director and Sunday School teacher. A successful businessman, he was the owner of a store, a sawmill, a planing mill, and a 200-acre (0.81 km2) farm; he also farmed commercially with 300 acres (1.2 km2) additional planted in cotton.

Dahmer served several terms as president of the Forrest County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and led voter registration drives in the 1960s. He kept a voter registration book in his store in late 1965 to make it easier for African Americans to register. Dahmer also helped the local African-American population pay a poll tax for the right to vote. His mantra was, "If you don't vote, you don't count," and those words, which he repeated on his deathbed, were used as his epitaph.[1]

The crime and suspects

Demonstration on morning of Vernon Dahmer's funeral, January 15, 1966 (Hattiesburg, MS). Charles Evers, state NAACP field secretary, shown left of flag bearer.

On the night of January 10, 1966, the Dahmer home was firebombed. As Dahmer's wife and children escaped the inferno, gunshots were fired and Vernon returned fire from within the house. He was severely burned about the head, face, arms, and upper body before he could escape. His 10-year-old daughter, Bettie, also suffered painful burns. The Dahmer home, grocery store, and car were destroyed. Dahmer died on January 11, 1966, from the effect of burns in his respiratory tract.

The Hattiesburg area was stunned by the attack. The Chamber of Commerce under William Carey College President Dr. Ralph Noonkester led a community effort to rebuild the Dahmer home. Local and state businesses such as the Masonite Corporation, Alexander Materials, and Frierson Building Materials donated materials, local unions donated their services, and students from the University of Southern Mississippi volunteered unskilled labor.

Authorities indicted fourteen men, most with Ku Klux Klan connections, for the attack on the Dahmer home. Thirteen were brought to trial, eight on charges of arson and murder. Four were convicted and one entered a guilty plea. In addition, eleven of the defendants were tried on federal charges of conspiracy to intimidate Dahmer because of his civil rights activities. Former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, who was believed to have ordered the murder, was tried four times, but each trial ended in a mistrial.[2]

Based on new evidence, the state of Mississippi reopened the case and in 1998 tried Sam Bowers for the murder of Dahmer and assault on his family. The jury convicted Bowers and the judge sentenced him to life. He died in prison on November 5, 2006.[2].

Honors and recognition

After Vernon Dahmer's death, a street and a park in Hattiesburg were named in his honor. On July 26, 1986, a memorial was also dedicated at the park.

On February 3, 2007, Dahmer was posthumously honored for his heroic contributions to the Civil Rights Movement at a celebration announcing the Vernon Dahmer Collection at William Carey University in Hattiesburg. The collection was funded in part by a grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council.

References

External links

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