Lemuel Penn

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Lemuel Augustus Penn
PennLemuel1.JPG
Lt. Col. Lemuel A. Penn
Born (1915-09-19)September 19, 1915
Washington D.C.
Died July 11, 1964(1964-07-11) (aged 48)
Madison County, Georgia
Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance United StatesUnited States of America
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1942 – 1964
Rank US-O5 insignia.svg Lieutenant Colonel
Battles/wars

World War II

Awards Bronze Star

Lt. Col. Lemuel Augustus Penn (September 19, 1915, Washington, D.C. – July 11, 1964 in Madison County, Georgia) was a decorated veteran of World War II and a United States Army Reserve officer who was murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan in 1964, nine days after passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Of African American descent, Lemuel Penn joined the Army Reserve from Howard University and served in World War II in New Guinea and the Philippines, earning a Bronze Star. At the time of his murder, Penn, 48, was the assistant superintendent of Washington, D.C. public schools[1] and the father of two daughters and one son, Linda, 13, Sharon, 11, and Lemuel Jr., 5.[2]

Penn was driving home, together with two other black Reserve officers,[2] to Washington, D.C. from Fort Benning where they were on a summer camp. Their Chevrolet Biscayne was spotted by three white members of the United Klans of America[3] - James Lackey, Cecil Myers and Howard Sims - who noted its D.C plates. "That must be one of President Johnson's boys.",[2] Howard Sims, one of the white killers evidently motivated by racial hatred, said then. Klansmen followed the car with their Chevy II. "I'm going to kill me a nigger," said Sims.[2]

Just before the highway crosses the Broad River, the Klansmen's Chevy II pulled alongside the Biscayne. The Klansman, Cecil Myers, raised a shotgun and fired. From the back seat, Howard Sims, also a white member of the Ku Klux Klan, did the same.

Penn was shot to death on a Broad River bridge on the Georgia State Route 172 in Madison County, Georgia, near Colbert, twenty-two miles north of the city of Athens. Soon Lackey, who was also of white European descent and a Klansman, Myers and Sims were identified as the ones who chased the trio of Army reservists. Sims and Myers, both members of the Ku Klux Klan, were tried in state superior court but found not guilty by an all-white jury.[4] Federal prosecutors eventually charged both for violating Penn's civil rights.[citation needed] They were tried and found guilty by a federal district court jury.[citation needed] Sims and Myers were sentenced to ten years and served about six in federal prison.[citation needed] Howard Sims was killed with a shotgun in 1981 at age 58.[citation needed] James Lackey died at age 66 in 2002.[citation needed] Cecil Myers is still alive.[citation needed]

The historical marker erected by the Georgia Historical Society, the Lemuel Penn Memorial Committee, and Colbert Grove Baptist Church at Georgia Highway 172 and Broad River Bridge on the Madison/Elbert County Border states:

On the night of July 11, 1964 three African-American World War II veterans returning home following training at Ft. Benning, Georgia were noticed in Athens by local members of the Ku Klux Klan. The officers were followed to the nearby Broad River Bridge where their pursuers fired into the vehicle, killing Lt. Col. Lemuel Penn. When a local jury failed to convict the suspects of murder, the federal government successfully prosecuted the men for violations under the new Civil Rights Act of 1964, passed just nine days before Penn's murder. The case was instrumental in the creation of a Justice Department task force whose work culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1968.[5]

Out of Penn's murder arose the Supreme Court case United States v. Guest, in which the Court affirmed the availability to apply criminal charges to private conspirators, who with assistance from a state official, deprive a person of rights secured by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Violence in the U.S.: 1956-67 by Thomas A. Parker. Facts on File, Inc. p. 69
  2. ^ a b c d Thompson 2004.
  3. ^ The Ku Klux Klan: A Secret History. The History Channel documentary, 1998.
  4. ^ Alschuler 1995, 706.
  5. ^ Historical marker noting the murder of Lt. Col. Lemuel Penn by members of the Ku Klux Klan

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Shipp, William. Murder at Broad River Bridge: The Slaying of Lemuel Penn by Members of the Ku Klux Klan. Atlanta, Ga: Peachtree Press, 1981. "Journalist Bill Shipp tells the tragic story of the murder of Army Colonel Lemuel Penn on the Broad River Bridge in July, 1964. Shipp details the climate of racial tensions in Athens during 1964, the events of the fateful night of Mr. Penn's murder, the subsequent investigation, the trial of the Klan suspects, and the Federal Civil Suit brought against the murder suspects." (Book description at University of Georgia civil rights project)

Also, there is a great deal of material about the murder and its aftermath in"Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-1965" by Taylor Branch, Touchstone, 1998.