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Mississippi honors Vernon Dahmer, fifty years after KKK slaying

Friday's ceremony was the latest demonstration of the Magnolia State's efforts to make peace with it's racial past.

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    Brian Swanson, the great grandson of Vernon Dahmer Sr., a civil-rights leader killed 50 years ago when Ku Klux Klansmen firebombed his family's home and businesses near Hattiesburg, holds the concurrent resolution presented by the Mississippi Legislature to the family, Friday, at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss. A jury in 1998 convicted one-time Klan leader Sam Bowers of murder and arson in the case, and Bowers died in prison in 2006. The Capitol ceremony is the latest in a long effort by Mississippi officials to recognize the troubled racial history of a state that still displays the Confederate battle emblem on its flag.
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In the latest demonstration of Mississippi's efforts to confront it's troubled racial history, state lawmakers gathered on Friday to remember civil rights leader Vernon Dahmer, who was killed by members of the Klu Klux Klan 50 years ago.

Mr. Dahmer was a farmer and outspoken activist who served two terms as president of the local chapter of the NAACP. After the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Dahmer volunteered to collect poll taxes from his neighbors so they wouldn't all have to find their way to the courthouse to register to vote. The night after announcing his intent on the radio, Dahmer and his family woke in the middle of the night to firebombs and gunshots. He held his ground as the home burned so that the rest of his family could escape. He died a day later on Jan. 10, 1966.

Justice was a long time coming for the Dahmer family. Klan leader Sam Bowers was eventually convicted of murder and arson from the events of that day, but not until 1998, 32 years after Dahmer's death.

His widow, Ellie Dahmer, and other relatives attended the ceremony at the Mississippi State Capitol.

"I'm so proud of my state," Ms. Dahmer said after the resolution was presented to her and her family, according to The Clarion-Ledger. "I never thought this would happen."

In recent years, many states in the South have been taking steps to address racial tensions and historical injustices. Last January, South Carolina held a symbolic retrial of seven of the so-called Friendship Nine, nine black men who had been sentenced to hard labor in 1961 for trying to order lunch at a diner designated "whites only." And just last month, the New Orleans City Council voted nearly unanimously to remove monuments to the Confederacy, including statues of Gen. Robert E. Lee.

In Mississippi, residents and lawmakers have been debating the possibility of changing the state flag which features the Confederate battle flag, which became the subject of heated debate after a man who had posed with it online admitted to killing nine black parishioners at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, S.C.

During Friday's ceremony, Mississippi lawmakers presented Dahmer's family with a resolution honoring his work to ensure voting rights for all. 

State Sen. John Horhn (D) read a letter from President Obama:

"With hearts full of courage and love, citizens like Vernon lived their lives in defense of equality and justice and endeavored to make our Nation truer to itself. These heroes embodied the patriotism we proudly carry forward – one that recognizes that America is not yet finished and that it is within our power to make our Union more perfect,” Obama wrote.

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

 
 
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