During the Civil Rights Era, activist and Forrest County, Miss., NAACP President Vernon Dahmer’s work fighting for voting rights drew the ire of a variety of white supremacist organizations, including the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, the Citizens Council and the Ku Klux Klan—all of whom had been keeping tabs on him for years. One night in January 1966, the Dahmer family awoke to the sound of gunfire and breaking glass as Klansmen tossed gas jugs through their windows. Dahmer grabbed his gun and shot back from inside the home to give his wife, Ellie, time to get out safely with their children. The house erupted into flames with Dahmer still inside. He died at a hospital not long after, his lungs scorched and body burned. On Jan. 6, 2020, Forrest County came together in downtown Hattiesburg to honor Dahmer’s legacy with the unveiling of a statue in his honor. His widow, Ellie Dahmer, spoke at the event, along with their children and other family and friends. As she pulled the veil off the statue, family members cried out, “It looks like him.” The woman, who ran for and won a seat on the Forrest County Election Commission in 1992, looked up at the bronze likeness of her husband and gasped joyfully. Dahmer’s statue sits on the lawn of Forrest County’s Paul B. Johnson Chancery Court Building, which is named for a former segregationist governor. During Dahmer’s time, the building served as the domain of Forrest County Circuit Clerk and Registrar of Voters Theron Lynd, an ardent segregationist who made black voters answer questions like, “How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?” Now, though, Dahmer’s most famous quote is displayed prominently in large letters outside the front of the courthouse: “If you don’t vote, you don’t count.” In 2016, the Mississippi Legislature began declaring Jan. 10 Vernon Dahmer Day to commemorate his life, death and legacy.
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