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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 and the father of two daughters and one son, Linda, 13, Sharon, 11, and Lemuel Jr., 5.
He was on his way back to Washington from Fort Benning, Ga., with two other black Reserve officers, Maj. Charles E. Brown and Lt. Col. John D. Howard, at the end of Field Officers Refresher Course No. 3, a two-week summer camp.¬† Penn, Brown and Howard left Fort Benning shortly after midnight July 11, planning to drive straight through to Washington. Penn was wary of stopping along the way, and asked someone in the camp dining hall to make sandwiches for him, Howard and Brown, both also black. The request was denied; it was against regulations.
Two hours after leaving Fort Benning, Penn and his companions, in civilian clothes, stopped at a gas station off Interstate 85 in Atlanta, got a map and talked with the attendant about the best way to get to South Carolina.
Penn was looking for an alternate to U.S. Highway 29, which he and Brown had taken on the drive down to Fort Benning from D.C., because he wanted to avoid the string of small towns that dotted the route.The group could make better time, Penn decided, by taking Georgia Highway 72 out of Athens and getting on Georgia Highway 172 just east of Colbert.
In downtown Athens, across from the Civil War memorial that still stands in the middle of East Broad Street and in front of the University of Georgia, which had admitted its first black students a little more than three years earlier, they stopped to change drivers. Sometime around 4 a.m., Brown moved to the passenger side of the front seat, and Penn slid behind the wheel. He drove a couple of blocks to Thomas Street and turned left, with Howard napping in the back seat and Brown settling into the front seat for some rest.
Their Chevrolet Biscayne was spotted by three white members of the United Klans of America - James Lackey, Cecil Myers and Howard Sims - who noted its D.C plates. "That must be one of President Johnson's boys.", 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.
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. Federal prosecutors eventually charged both for violating Penn's civil rights. They were tried and found guilty by a federal district court jury. Sims and Myers were sentenced to ten years and served about six in federal prison. Howard Sims was killed with a shotgun in 1981 at age 58. James Lackey died at age 66 in 2002. Cecil Myers is still alive.
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.
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.
Lt. Col. Lemuel Penn wasn't the only person killed by the shotgun blast that echoed in the early morning air on July 11, 1964. It just took his wife longer to die.
Georgia Penn and her husband were high school sweethearts who followed each other to Howard University, where Lemuel Penn joined the Army Reserve. He would see action in New Guinea and the Philippines in World War II, earning a Bronze Star. Georgia Penn would always marvel at the fact that her husband made it through World War II without a scratch, only to die in his own country.
The couple made their careers in the Washington, D.C., public school system. Lemuel Penn, lacking only his dissertation to earn a doctoral degree, became the system's director of vocational education; Georgia Penn taught home economics at Paul Junior High School.
She grieved hard at her husband's death, subsisting on little more than tea and crackers. She eventually contracted lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease involving the body's immune system. Slightly less than a year after the fatal shooting of her husband, Georgia Penn was dead.
For Penn's eldest daughter, Linda, there's no question why her mother died.
''It was from grief,'' she said in a recent interview.
Their parents gone, the Penn children were sent to live with their mother's sister and her husband in Syracuse, N.Y.
Georgia and Lemuel Penn had already begun to secure their children's futures, putting away money for them to attend college. Today, Linda is a teacher, Sharon works in the insurance industry and Lemuel Jr. is a captain with a major airline.
Lemuel Penn has laid in the ground, under a white stone marker in Arlington Cemetery bearing his name, hometown and rank, since July 1964.
A quarter-century later, his name was also etched into the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala., which commemorates the 40 people killed between 1954 and 1968 in the struggle for civil rights.
The monument features a circular stone table with water flowing from its center, across Penn's name and the names of the 39 other civil rights victims. A curved wall near the table is etched with words from the Old Testament book of Amos - ''... until justice rolls down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream,'' - a verse often referenced by Martin Luther King Jr.
¬†Georgia Historical Marker: http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=29857