Lt. Col. Lemuel Penn was a decorated World War II veteran who also served as one of the top educators in Washington. D.C. ON July 11, 1964, Lt. Col. Penn was killed by a group of Ku Klux Klan members who followed him and two Black colleagues along a road in rural Georgia to carry out the crime.
Penn, 48, served as the assistant superintendent of D.C. Public Schools. The Howard University Army reservist was traveling home from Georgia with two other reservists and fellow educators after training in the state. According to accounts, the Klansmen noticed the soldiers from the road and followed them.
The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 was just nine days passed during the time of the incident. Under the law, two local men, Cecil Myers and Joseph Howard Sims, were charged with the murder. The case drew the attention of President Lyndon B. Johnson, investigative authorities, and civil rights activists alike calling for justice. While evidence against the men was presented, an all-white jury acquitted the pair.
Adding to the particulars of the case, Penn was reportedly not an activist and preferred to keep to himself volunteering his time versus marching in support of racial issues. In 1966, Myers and Sims were given 10 year sentences after being found for violating the civil rights of Penn under the new law. Four other Klansmen were implicated but never charged.
Some experts say that Penn’s murder and case helped move along the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Other historian noted that afterwards, the KKK’s mainstream visibility was diminished.
PHOTO: Public Domain
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