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Sun, 09.19.1915

Lemuel Penn, Officer and Educator born

Lemuel Penn

*Lemuel Penn was born on this date in 1915. He was a Black educator and soldier.

Lemuel Augustus Penn was born in Washington D.C., joined the Army Reserve from Howard University, and served as an Officer in World War II in New Guinea and the Philippines, earning a Bronze Star. After serving his country, Penn was the Assistant Superintendent of Washington, D.C. public schools. He was also active in the Boy Scouts of America. In 1949, he was instrumental in organizing the first large camp for Negro Boy Scouts before Scout integration in Washington, D.C.

In the 1940s, Penn had worked for Gunnar Myrdal on the landmark study of race relations, An American Dilemma, and is cited in that book's acknowledgments.

On the night of July 11, 1964, three black 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. Authorities quickly identified James S. Lackey, a Klansman, and Myers and Sims as the ones who chased the trio of Army reservists. Sims and Myers were tried in the state superior court but found not guilty by an all-white jury.

On June 27, 1966, federal prosecutors eventually charged both for violating Penn's civil rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.   Criminal proceedings began against Sims, Myers, Lackey, and three other local Klansmen, Herbert Guest, Denver Phillips, and George Hampton Turner. Two weeks later, Sims and Myers were found guilty of conspiracy charges by a federal district court jury; their four co-defendants, however, were acquitted. Sims and Myers were sentenced to ten years each 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 died in 2018 at the age of 79.

The case was instrumental in creating a Justice Department task force whose work culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Penn's murder was the basis of the Supreme Court case United States v. Guest. A case where the Court affirmed the ability of the government 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.

He was murdered at the age of 48, the father of two daughters and one son, Linda, 13, Sharon, 11, and Lemuel Jr., 5. The historical marker by the Georgia Historical Society, the Lemuel Penn Memorial Committee, and Colbert Grove Baptist Church are at Georgia Highway 172 and Broad River Bridge on the Madison/Elbert County Border.

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