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Jul. 11: A hero is killed in Madison County

The man who was murdered by klansmen 50 years ago today had earned a Bronze Star.
The man who was murdered by klansmen 50 years ago today had earned a Bronze Star.
Photo by Getty Images

Here’s what happened.

Lemuel Augustus Penn was murdered on July 11, 1964 in Madison County, Georgia. He died without knowing he would play an important role in the struggle for civil rights in the USA and particularly in the South.

Here’s why it matters.

Lemuel Penn joined the U.S. Army after graduating from Howard University. His service during World War II earned a Bronze Star. Penn continued active duty in the Army Reserve with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He returned to Washington, DC and entered the public education profession, eventually becoming a high school principal.

On July 11 Penn and two other black officers were driving on State Road 172, returning to DC after weeks of training at Fort Benning. Local Ku Klux Klan members James Lackey, Howard Sims, and Cecil Myers drove their car next to Penn’s; Sims and Myers opened fire. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been signed by President Lyndon Johnson only days before, and may have motivated the murder. Sims and Myers were identified and tried, but acquitted by an all-white jury.

Penn’s murder motivated establishment of the Civil Rights Task Force. Ironically, federal prosecutors used provisions of the 1964 Act to convict Sims and Myers on charges of violating Penn's civil rights.

Here’s an interesting fact!

Lt. Colonel Penn is remembered in Madison County and at Arlington National Cemetery. Beginning in 2014, he will also be remembered as part of an exhibit at the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta.

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