Forrest County supervisors voted to build a memorial to honor the late civil rights leader Vernon Dahmer, who was killed when his house was firebombed in 1966. He worked to get people in Hattiesburg registered to vote.
Lici Beveridge/Hattiesburg American
The Forrest County Board of Supervisors on Monday voted to build a memorial to honor the late civil rights activist Vernon Dahmer.
President David Hogan will give $20,000 from his district’s recreation fund to pay for the development and design of the memorial.
“The board thinks that it is fitting to memorialize his life,” Hogan said. “Mr. Dahmer was known as a kind, honest man.”
Dahmer’s widow, Ellie Dahmer, thanked the supervisors for remembering her late husband’s work and the sacrifice he made.
“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “Vernon Dahmer did a lot for this community. We’ve had support all along, and we’re glad that it continues.
“He was a Christian man. He was concerned about everybody. He didn’t see black or white. He saw people.”
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On Jan. 10, 1966, the Dahmer home in the Kelly Settlement was firebombed by the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The family had received numerous death threats before that day and took turns sleeping in shifts.
Klansmen also fired shots into the home. Vernon Dahmer returned fire, trying to give his family enough time to get out.
He suffered burns from the fire and died later that day at a local hospital.
“We will always remember him, remember that night,” Ellie Dahmer said. “That night will never be erased from my mind.”
She said she hopes the memorial is a statue of Vernon Dahmer, so young people can see the man whose life was taken for trying to help people exercise what the U.S. Supreme Court ruled was a privilege that should be shared by all Americans.
“I hope they look at that night and remember what happened to us, and I hope it will never happen to anybody — I don’t care what color they are,” Ellie Dahmer said. “Nobody deserves to go through what we went through.”
Dahmer said her husband never got the opportunity to do the one thing he worked so hard for: “He never had a chance to vote. His card came in the mail as we buried him.”
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The Rev. Reginald Woullard, pastor of Shady Grove Baptist Church, where the Dahmers are members, praised the supervisors’ decision.
“History is incomplete if you don’t tell the good and the bad,” he said. “It was a tragic thing that happened but at least we are willing to rectify it and do the right thing. That’s what matters most.
“I am glad (the memorial) will be put in a position where people from other generations will also be able to recognize his work.”
The design and location will be worked on by a committee, which is being formed. One possible location could be the site outside Forrest County Courthouse where a Confederate memorial now stands.
Hogan said the Confederate memorial would be removed.
“We have a civil rights icon right here in Forrest County who paid the ultimate price — just for getting people registered to vote,” Hogan said. “There was a lot of struggles here in the South with that. He would actually come to the courthouse with individuals, pay the poll tax and help them with the exam that they really didn’t have the chance to pass.
“And then he was ultimately murdered, so as we look around the country with the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson and the (National Museum of African American History and Culture) in Washington, the board realized it was time to memorialize a Forrest County native, and we’re proud to do that.”
How to help
If you would like to serve on the Vernon Dahmer memorial committee, contact Forrest County Administrator Betty Carlisle at (601) 545-6000 or email@example.com.