Joyce Ladner remembers Vernon Dahmer

On January 10th, 1966, the Klan firebombed the home of Vernon F. Dahmer, a businessman, community leader, and stalwart of the voting rights movement in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Dahmer died the next day. Joyce Ladner, SNCC activist and sociologist, remembers Mr. Dahmer and his legacy in these remarks, prepared for the Clarion Ledger’s January 8, 2016 commemoration of Vernon Dahmer and published by Teaching for Change.

Photograph of Vernon Dahmer on tractor in his cotton field, Nov. 11, 1964, George Ballis, Take Stock

Vernon F. Dahmer: Civil Rights Martyr and American Hero

By Joyce Ladner

I want to thank the Dahmer family, particularly Ellie Dahmer and the Dahmer children who had to find ways to go on after his life was cut short. They kept his life and legacy in the forefront of our minds. They ensured that those who took his life were prosecuted. I also want to thank Jerry Mitchell, Clarion Ledger investigative reporter, who played a key role in the conviction of the Ku Klux Klan imperial wizard Sam Bowers who ordered the fatal firebombing of the Dahmer family.

January 10, 2016 will mark the 50th anniversary of the murder of civil rights martyr and American hero, Vernon Ferdinand Dahmer. He was a civil rights leader, community leader, and businessman in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. In the early hours of January 10, 1966, members of the Ku Klux Klan shot into and firebombed the home he shared with his wife and children in the Kelly Settlement section of Hattiesburg. It occurred soon after he announced on local radio that he would accept poll taxes at his grocery store and take them to the Forrest County Voting Registrar, Theron Lynd. He offered to pay the poll taxes for those who could not afford them. In doing so, he was going up against the formidable Lynd, who had a reputation for failing most blacks on the literacy test when they tried to register to vote. I was a college senior when I “failed” the literacy test in 1964.

I will never forget the 6 A.M. call to my St. Louis apartment from my mother back in Hattiesburg who told me that the Ku Klux Klan had torched the Dahmer home and store to the ground and that Mr. Dahmer was in critical condition. Her next call later that day was to tell me he had died. His murder caused me to have a loss of innocence because I was reminded that the civil rights struggle could still cause the unleashing of the most virulent racial violence against activists.

Continue reading Joyce Ladner’s remarks at Teaching for Change.