Rev. George Lee, a civil rights leader and activist, is considered by some historians to be the first martyr of the civil rights movement. In the town of Belzoni, Miss., Rev. Lee led a series of voter registration drives which led to his assassination in 1955. The town was given the gruesome nickname “Bloody Belzoni” after Lee’s death.
A successful businessman, Lee was also the leader of the local branch of the NAACP with his partner, Gus Courts. In addition, Lee worked alongside the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, whose most famous member was activist Medgar Evers.
Lee was the first African-American to register to vote since the Reconstruction Era in Humphreys County, Miss. Lee was especially concerned with getting Black voters registered in the Delta Region, and registered over 90 Black voters in the county along with Courts’ assistance.
Because of the success of his grocery store, his ministry and a printing press company he and his wife owned, Lee had the resources to lead the registration drives in Belzoni and nearby counties. Lee and Courts took Belzoni’s sheriff to court after he refused to accept their poll taxes, which gained the gentlemen plenty of enemies.
Jim Crow laws held fast at the time, and many whites continued to resist racial integration while employing intimidation tactics. The Citizen’s Council (also known as the White’s Citizen’s Council) promised protection to Lee and other activists but only if they called off their voter registration efforts. In the meantime, the WCC intimidated registrants by