May 7th, 1955
Rev. George Lee Fatally Shot After Attempting to Register to Vote in Belzoni, Mississippi
Reverend George Lee, co-founder of Belzoni, Mississippi's NAACP chapter and the first African American to register to vote in Humphreys County since Reconstruction, is considered one of the first martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement. Rev. Lee first moved to Belzoni to preach and had been working to register other African Americans to vote since the NAACP chapter's 1953 founding; he later served as chapter president. Rev. Lee registered some 100 African American voters in Belzoni, an extraordinary feat considering the significant risk of violent retaliation facing black voters in the Deep South at the time.
Belzoni's White Citizen's Council became aware of Rev. Lee's voter registration efforts and unsuccessfully tried to stop him using threats and intimidation. On the night of May 7, 1955, Rev. Lee was driving home when bullets were fired into the cab of his car, ripping off the lower half of his face. He later died at Humphreys County Medical Center. When NAACP field secretary for Mississippi Medgar Evers came to investigate the death, the county sheriff told him that Rev. Lee had died in a car accident and the lead bullets found in his jaw were dental fillings.
According to FBI records, efforts to bring murder charges against two members of the White Citizen's Council stalled when the local prosecutor resisted taking the case further. Rev. Lee had an open casket funeral, and the NAACP memorial service held in his honor brought more than 1000 mourners to Belzoni.