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|1st Grand Wizard of the |
White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
February 15, 1964 – 1989
|Preceded by||Position Established|
|Succeeded by||Johnny Lee Clary|
Samuel Holloway Bowers
August 25, 1924
New Orleans, Louisiana
|Died||November 5, 2006 (aged 82)|
Mississippi State Penitentiary
Sunflower County, Mississippi
|Known for||Founding the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan|
Samuel Holloway Bowers (August 25, 1924 – November 5, 2006) was a convicted murderer and leading white supremacist in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement. In response to this movement and perceived threats to national security from Judaism and Communism, he co-founded the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and became its Imperial Wizard. Bowers was best known for committing two murders of civil rights activists in southern Mississippi. He was responsible for the 1964 murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner near Philadelphia, for which he served six years in federal prison; and the 1966 murder of Vernon Dahmer in Hattiesburg, for which he was sentenced to life in prison, 32 years after the crime. He also was accused of bombings of Jewish targets in the cities of Jackson and Meridian in 1967 and 1968 (according to the man who was convicted of some of the bombings, Thomas A. Tarrants III). He died in prison at the age of 82.
Bowers was born on August 25, 1924, in New Orleans, Louisiana, to Samuel Bowers, Sr., a salesman, and his wife Evangeline Bowers (née Peyton), daughter of a well-to-do planter. He had deep roots in the southern Mississippi—New Orleans area on both sides of his family. His maternal grandfather had a plantation while his father's father, Eaton J. Bowers, was a four-term Congressman from Mississippi's Gulf Coast. Representative Bowers was an explicitly virulent opponent of equality for African Americans. In a speech to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1904, during his freshman term, he said:
Let me say to the gentleman from Massachusetts that it is evident that we have at least two theories as to how the negro should be dealt with. One may be termed his idea of the development by higher education, social equality, and the like, while the other might be dominated [sic] the Southern idea of the absolute segregation of the two races, the fitting the negro for that sphere and station which, based upon an experience born of more than a century's knowledge of him as a slave and nearly forty years' experience with him as a freedman, we believe he can acceptably and worthily fill, with absolute denial of social intercourse and with every restriction on his participation in political affairs and government that is permissible under the Federal Constitution... The restriction of suffrage was the wisest statesmanship ever exhibited in that proud Commonwealth... We have disfranchised not only the ignorant and vicious black but the ignorant and vicious white as well...
Sam Bowers, Jr. attended high school in Jackson, Mississippi. While a high school student, Bowers worked part-time at the newly established Mississippi School Book Depository in Jackson. He was among the first group of staff members hired after the state legislature approved of and passed a free textbook program championed by Governor Paul B. Johnson, Sr. During World War II, he served in the United States Navy. Eventually, he settled in Laurel, Mississippi and started his own small business, Sambo Amusement Company, variously reported to be a pinball machine business and a vending machine business.
White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
Bowers, along with many other southern whites during the Cold War, was antagonistic towards the civil rights movement, believing it to be a movement led by the far left and organized by the Communist Party, and he began to express racist political views in the late 1950s. Bowers came to believe that the Soviet Union was a front for Jewish elites seeking to overthrow Christianity as the dominant religion of Western society, that Fidel Castro's government in Cuba was recruiting and providing military training to blacks to invade the Gulf Coast, and that the U.S. federal government would use the invasion as a pretext to federalize the National Guard and deport all whites from his home state of Mississippi.
Bowers perceived the original Ku Klux Klan as being too passive. On February 15, 1964, at a meeting in Brookhaven, Mississippi, he convinced about 200 members of the original Knights to defect and join his Klan, to be called the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. He became the group's fraternal "Imperial Wizard," creating a "Klan Konstitution" for the "Sovereign Realm of Mississippi" to be governed by himself and a body called the "Klongress." Bowers adopted a code of secrecy, with no members outside of the Klan knowing the Imperial Wizard's identity.
Philosophy of the White Knights
In an "Imperial Executive Order" issued at a Klan meeting on June 7, 1964, and recorded by the FBI, Bowers wrote:
This summer, within a very few days, the enemy will launch his final push for victory here in Mississippi. This offensive will consist of two basic salients [...]
One. Massive street demonstrations by blacks used by communists [...] designed to provoke whites into counterdemonstrations and open, pitched street battles [...] to provide an excuse for:
Two. A decree from subversive authorities in charge of the national government [...] declaring martial law [...]
When the first waves of blacks hit our streets this summer, we must avoid open daylight conflict with them [...] we must reveal their leaders as the immoral hypocrites they are.
Weaving religion into the mix, he further declared
As Christians we are disposed to kindness, generosity, affection, and humility in our dealings with others. As militants, we are disposed to use physical force against our enemies. How can we reconcile these two apparently contradictory philosophies? The answer, of course, is to purge malice, bitterness, and vengeance from our hearts.
In 1964, community activists from Congress of Racial Equality and Students for a Democratic Society launched Freedom Summer. Later that year, three of these activists - James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman - were murdered. Sam Bowers was convicted in 1967 for his role in the Chaney-Schwerner-Goodman killings and served his sentence at McNeil Island Federal Prison in Washington. He was released in 1976 and then worked as a Sunday School teacher.
Two other men, Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, were murdered at that time because they were suspected of being civil rights activists also. However, it was later determined that Bowers was not involved with their deaths. Klansman and former police officer James Ford Seale was arrested for this crime in 2007. Charles Marcus Edwards also participated in the abduction and beating and testified that he was the one who had identified Dee as a target because "he fit the profile of a Black Panther..." Seale and Edwards were convicted because journalists, particularly Canadian filmmaker David Ridgen in his award-winning CBC documentary Mississippi Cold Case, investigated the case and discovered incriminating evidence.
In January 1966, Bowers, along with a number of other members of the White Knights of the KKK, was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee to testify about Klan activities. Although Byron De La Beckwith gave his name when asked by the committee (but would answer no other substantive questions), other witnesses, such as Bowers, invoked the Fifth Amendment even in response to that question.
In 1966 alleged members of the White Knights firebombed the house of Vernon Dahmer, a civil rights activist who was working to register African Americans for the vote. Dahmer died of burn injuries which covered 40% of his body and damage to his lungs, which were seared while rescuing his family from the fire.
According to later testimony by ex-White Knights member T. Webber Rogers, Bowers gave the direct order to have Dahmer killed, "in any way possible." After four previous trials ended in deadlock (a 1968 jury split 11 to 1 in favor of guilty, and in 1969 a jury split 10-2 in favor of conviction), Bowers was convicted of the murder in August 1998 and sentenced to life in prison.
In 1967, White Knights are alleged to have begun a campaign against Jewish targets in Mississippi. Beth Israel Congregation in Jackson and Congregation Beth Israel in Meridian were bombed. Also, the home of Jackson's Rabbi Perry Nussbaum was attacked. The actual perpetrators of these crimes were suspects Thomas A. Tarrants III and Kathy Ainsworth.
The FBI became involved in the case and, with threatening accusations against local law enforcement, it began to track down potential bombers.
A breakthrough in the case came when two Klan brothers, Alton Wayne Roberts and Raymond Roberts, met with the FBI and the police in exchange for reward money and immunity. Alton Wayne Roberts had previously been sentenced to 10 years in prison for violating the civil rights of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman. He agreed to cooperate in order to receive a reduced sentence.
A joint FBI and local police operation ambushed Tarrants and Ainsworth. Ainsworth was killed and Tarrants was severely wounded.
Bowers served a life sentence for the 1966 bombing death of civil rights leader Vernon Dahmer. According to the commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), only one person visited Bowers during his incarceration. The visitor claimed to be Bowers' brother, who listed a false address and fictitious Mississippi town as his residence. Bowers died in the Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman) Hospital of cardio-pulmonary arrest on Sunday, November 5, 2006, aged 82.
After Bowers died, an out-of-state relative came forward to claim his body. He never married.
- New York Times 2006.
- Shurter 1908, pp. 258, 260.
- "First Free Textbooks Go to Copiah County". Jackson Daily Clarion Ledger. August 21, 1940.
- Marsh 2001, pp. 35-37. sfn error: no target: CITEREFMarsh2001 (help)
- Watson, Bruce, 1953- (2011). Freedom summer : the savage season of 1964 that made Mississippi burn and made America a democracy. New York: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-311943-2. OCLC 745562994.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Whitehead 1970.
- Marsh 1999, p. 61. sfn error: no target: CITEREFMarsh1999 (help)
- "Henry Dee and Charles Moore Case - The Civil Rights Cold Case Project". coldcases.org.
- Vollers 1995.
- Lee, Jennifer 8 (November 6, 2006). "Samuel Bowers, 82, Klan Leader Convicted in Fatal Bombing, Dies". The New York Times.
- Washington Post 2006.
- "BOOK REVIEW : Klan and FBI Wounded in Hail of Bullets : TERROR IN THE NIGHT: The Klan's Campaign Against the Jews By Jack Nelson : Simon & Schuster $22; 304 pages". Los Angeles Times. February 23, 1993. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
- Associated Press 2006.
- Mitchell 2006, p. B1.
- WLBT 2006.
- Associated Press (November 5, 2006). "Ex-Klansman convicted in '66 bombing is dead".
- Bloomberg News (June 23, 2005). "Killen Sentenced to 60 Years in Prison in 1964 Deaths (Update4)".
- Mitchell, Jerry (November 8, 2006). "Bowers remains claimed". Clarion-Ledger.
- Marsh, Charles. God's Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997)
- Marsh, Charles, "Rendezvous with the Wizard," The Oxford American, November, 1996
- Marsh, Charles. The Last Days: A Son's Story of Sin and Segregation at the Dawn of a New South (New York: Basic Books, 2000)
- New York Times (November 6, 2006). "Samuel Bowers, 82, Klan Leader Convicted in Fatal Bombing, Dies".
- Shurter, Edwin Du Bois, ed. (1908). Oratory of the South: from the civil war to the present time. Neale publishing Company. p. 258.
eaton J bowers.
- Vollers, Maryanne (1995). Ghosts of Mississippi: the murder of Medgar Evers, the trials of Byron de la Beckwith, and the haunting of the new South. Little, Brown. ISBN 978-0-316-91485-7.
- Washington Post (November 6, 2006). "Jailed KKK Leader Samuel H. Bowers".
- WLBT (November 7, 2006). "Bowers' Body Claimed by Relative". Archived from the original on March 20, 2012.
- Whitehead, Don (1970). Attack on terror. New York: Funk and Wagnall's.
- Nelson, Jack (1993). Terror in the Night: The Klan's campaign against the Jews. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-69223-2.