Timeline

1966

January 10th, 1966

Mississippi Voting Rights Activist Vernon Dahmer Dies After Bombing

In the early morning hours of January 10, 1966, two carloads of armed Ku Klux Klan members drove onto the property of Vernon Dahmer, ten miles outside of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. For years, Elli Dahmer and her husband Vernon, a local NAACP leader and small business owner, had slept in shifts to keep watch over their home in anticipation of attacks from local whites. As a successful black businessman active in the voting rights movement, Mr. Dahmer and his family were the targets of local whites' hostility and terrorism. On this night, klansmen set fire to the Dahmer's grocery store and house and blasted the buildings with gunfire. Mrs. Dahmer, her daughter, and two sons managed to escape, but Mr. Dahmer was murdered in the attack; he sustained fatal lung damage while holding off attackers as his family fled, and he died later that day.

Following the murder, a massive crowd of black residents gathered at the local courthouse. President Lyndon B. Johnson sent a wire expressing condolences. Mr. Dahmer's funeral was well attended and local residents raised money to rebuild the family's house.

Fourteen klansmen were later arrested and charged with murder, arson, and conspiracy. Only four were convicted due to alleged jury tampering and none received a sentence longer than ten years. In 1998, prosecutors reopened the case against Sam Bowers, the klansman who ordered the attack. Bowers, at age 74, was convicted on August 21, 1998, and sentenced to life in prison.