A day for Dahmer

January 14, 2016 in News

Legislature commends civil rights icon 

By Shanderia K. Posey

Editor

Sen. Juan Barnett speaks during the resolution presentation of Vernon Dahmer Legacy Day. Ellie Dahmer, widow of Vernon Dahmer Sr., is left of Barnett. Sen. John Horhn is right of Barnett. Photo by Shanderia K. Posey

Sen. Juan Barnett speaks during the resolution presentation of Vernon Dahmer Legacy Day. Ellie Dahmer, widow of Vernon Dahmer Sr., is left of Barnett. Sen. John Horhn is right of Barnett. Photo by Shanderia K. Posey

Fifty years after Vernon Dahmer Sr., – one of Mississippi’s civil rights icons – was murdered at the hands of Klu Klux Klans, the state has honored him by designating Jan. 10, 2016, as Vernon Dahmer Legacy Day in Mississippi.

Dahmer

Dahmer

Some describe the honor as long overdue. When asked about whether she thought the honor was past its time, Ellie Dahmer, widow of the civil rights leader said, “Well, you know how I feel. My husband didn’t just help Blacks, he helped Whites, too.”

Dahmer was a local businessman, farmer and leader with the NAACP in the 1960s in the Hattiesburg area, particularly the Kelly Settlement community, which was land belonging to the Dahmer family. He was admired and respected by both Blacks and Whites. He also worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Council of Federated Organizations.

His efforts to get Blacks registered to vote, including leading voter registration drives, made him a target of white supremacists.

On Jan. 10, 1966, the KKK, under orders from Sam Bowers who was the imperial wizard of the White Knights, attacked Dahmer’s store and family home by shooting into the house and throwing containers of gas into the house. The house erupted in flames while Dahmer shot back at the attackers. Dahmer as well as his only daughter, Bettie, were injured by the flames. Dahmer later died in a hospital due to the damage to his lungs from the smoke. He was 57.

Bowers was convicted of the crime in 1998.

Dahmer’s family, including his wife, Ellie, and children, Dennis, Harold, Vernon Dahmer Jr., and daughter, Bettie, were among the many family and friends who were on the Mississippi Senate floor Jan. 9, as the resolution was read by District 26 Sen. John Horhn of Jackson. Horhn also read a resolution letter from President Barack Obama to the family.

Freshman state Sen. Juan Barnett, who is the first African-American lawmaker ever elected to represent the area of Dahmer’s birth, introduced the concurrent resolution Jan. 6. Horn assisted Barnett with the legislation.

“I think it’s very important that we continue to honor those leaders who gave their all up to and including the lives, for the freedom that we have today,” said Barnett, who considered honoring Dahmer during his campaign.

Dahmer was a member of the Shady Grove Baptist Church in Hattiesburg where he served as the music director and Sunday School teacher.

His famous quote was, “If you don’t vote, you don’t count.”

Flonzie Brown-Wright, the first black woman to hold office in the state since Reconstruction as election commissioner of Madison County, was on hand for the special day. She worked with Dahmer during the Civil Rights Movement.

“To everything there is a season and it is long overdue ‘cause this is a man who gave his life for the rights of everybody and of course as I looked over the Senate floor, I was almost moved to tears to see blacks and whites coming together for a unified cause.”

After Dahmer was killed, Brown-Wright organized a youth choir to get young people off the streets of Canton and renamed the choir the Vernon Dahmer Singers for Freedom. Some of those old choir members attended the program at Shady Grove Baptist Church in Hattiesburg Sunday to honor the civil rights leader.

“Today comes full circle for the Dahmer family,” she said.

Based on all the hugs and smiles from the many family members and friends of the Dahmer family who attended the resolution presentation, the heartache of the past was set aside to celebrate the impact Dahmer’s life had on civil rights.

“We certainly do appreciate it,” said Dennis Dahmer. “It did my heart good to look around that chamber and to see people of color and to know that part of the reason that they are there is a direct result of the things that my dad and other people did. They truly believed in the power of the ballot. The ballot is still strong today, but we have a lot of apathy and that needs to be corrected. So I encourage everybody to get out and vote because that is the one thing we can do collectively that will make a change.”

1DahmerIMG_4508 1DahmerIMG_4512