On July 11, 1964, Athens-area Ku Klux Klan members shot and killed Lemuel Penn.
Penn was an African American World War II veteran (1941-45), an officer in the U.S. Army Reserves, and the father of two daughters and one son. He was also the assistant superintendent of Washington, D.C. public schools.
He and two other veterans, Major Charles E. Brown and Lieutenant Colonel John D. Howard, had just completed reserve training at Fort Benning, Georgia, and were driving home to Washington, D.C. The veterans had been spotted in Athens by local Ku Klux Klan members who followed them to a nearby bridge and shot at the car, killing Penn.
As noted in the Georgia historical landmarker below,
When a local jury failed to convict the suspects of murder, the federal government successfully prosecuted the men for violations under the new Civil Rights Act of 1964, passed just nine days before Penn’s murder. The case was instrumental in the creation of a Justice Department task force whose work culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
Slightly more than a year later, Penn’s wife Georgia died at the age of forty-nine. Friends said it was from the grief after her husband’s death.
Learn more from the New Georgia Encyclopedia and Murder at Broad River Bridge The Slaying of Lemuel Penn by the Ku Klux Klanby Bill Shipp.