JANUARY 11, 1966 - Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Vernon Ferdinand Dahmer, Sr. was an American civil rights leader and president of the Forrest County chapter of the NAACP in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Dahmer was light-skinned enough to pass as white, but chose to forgo the privileges of living as a white man in Mississippi at that time. In March, 1952, Dahmer married Ellie Jewell Davis, a teacher from Rose Hill, Mississippi. The couple had eight children. Dahmer was a member of Shady Grove Baptist Church where he served as a music director and Sunday school teacher. He became the owner of a grocery store, sawmill, planing mill, and 200-acre cotton farm. On the night of January 10, 1966, the Dahmer home was firebombed. As Ellie and the children escaped the inferno, gunshots were fired from the streets and Vernon returned fire from inside the house. He was severely burned from the waist up before he could escape and died the next day. The Dahmer home, grocery store, and car were destroyed in the fire. Authorities indicted fourteen men, most with Ku Klux Klan connections. Thirteen were brought to trial, eight on charges of arson and murder. Four were convicted and one, Billie Roy Pitts, entered a guilty plea and turned state’s evidence. Three of the four convicted were pardoned within four years. In addition, eleven of the defendants were tried on federal charges of conspiracy to intimidate Dahmer because of his civil rights activities. Former Klan Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, who was believed to have ordered the attack, was tried four times, but each ended in a mistrial. Based on new evidence, the state of Mississippi reopened the case and in 1998 tried Bowers for the murder of Dahmer and assault on his family. The jury convicted Bowers, and the judge sentenced him to life in prison. He died in Mississippi State Penitentiary on November 5, 2006.