The traditional narrative of the Civil Rights Movement often ignores the fact that the struggle for civil rights, voting rights, and freedom was a life and death struggle, as exemplified by this story.
WWII veteran Louis Allen was murdered on January 31, 1964.
Allen had witnessed the murder of NAACP chapter charter member and SNCC supporter Herbert Lee by state legislator E. H. Hurst on September 25, 1961.
Allen secretly talked to Justice Department officials, telling them that he was willing to testify against Hurst if they him provided federal protection. The Justice Department refused. Word that Allen was talking to the feds was leaked to white segregationists. Death threats were made against Allen and his timber business suffered from boycotts.
Allen knew his life was in danger if he stayed in Amite County, but he had to care for his elderly mother. Movement organizers begged the FBI to provide him protection. They still refused. After his mother passed away, Allen made plans to move to Milwaukee.
On January 31, 1964, the night before Allen was to leave, he was killed. The Amite County sheriff assured reporters that Allen’s assassination had nothing to do with voting rights. The FBI quickly endorsed the sheriff’s version, claiming (falsely) that there was not a federal crime because “the victim is not a registered voter, has never been active in voter registration activities, and there has been no voter registration activity in Amite County in the past two or three years.”
No one was ever arrested for Allen’s murder.
“Louis Allen Murdered” at the SNCC Digital Gateway Archive
“Cold Case: The Murder of Louis Allen,” a news report by Steve Kroft, 60 Minutes
“Murder Mystery: Shining a Light on the Story that the Newspapers Left Out,” a free, downloadable lesson from Teaching for Change about the murders of Lee and Allen.
Find related lessons and other resources below.