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1-14-05 Madison & Clarke Counties Need Memorials for Lemuel Penn

Some things are just the “right thing” to do and they ought to be done.

Lt. Col. Lemuel Penn of Washington DC was followed through Athens and shot at Broad River Bridge on a July 1964 night.



January 10, 2005


Madison & Clarke Counties Need Memorial Marker for Lemuel Penn


By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc.


It was heartening when I first read the article in the Madison County Journal about the bridge naming request for Lemuel Penn.  SEE AVOC: 1-4-05 Madison County is Right to Honor Lemuel Penn

7-13-04 Lemuel Penn Murdered Near Athens in 1964: PART 1

 7-18-04 Lemuel Penn Murdered Near Athens In 1964: PART 2

As an adult in the Army in Texas in July 1964, the killing of Lemuel Penn near my home area, was disturbing.  It received much national publicity adverse to the State.  Fortunately, at the time, Georgia had a progressive Governor in Carl Sanders.  He immediately reacted with shock and state investigative resources.  For that I was thankful and was proud of my “home state”.


The recent article made me think that much of the old ignorance and racist violence had indeed passed from our midst.   For the greatest majority of citizens, I think it has.


We do have pockets of racists and ignorant persons capable of violence.  All communities have that. 


What makes the Lemuel Penn case special is the randomness of the act.  The Washington D C license plate and color of the driver was all the motivation needed to inspire the culprits to murder.  That kind of behavior needs to be condemned.


Our area Legislative leaders ought to take a lead and do what is right.  There should be a marker telling of the killing near the bridge and somewhere in downtown Athens where the plot was hatched and began.  The State could name the stretch of GA 172 as the Lemuel Penn Memorial Highway.


Some things are just the “right thing” to do and they ought to be done.


 Penn Memorial Marker at Arlington National Cemetery


The Athens Banner-Herald  1-8- 05 http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/010805/new_20050108049.shtml

Madison bid to name bridge may collapse

Proposal to honor Klan victim
By Lee Shearer

A bid to name a Madison County bridge in honor of a black Army officer slain by Ku Klux Klansmen 40 years ago may be abandoned by the group that proposed it, now that an elderly North Carolina man has stepped forward to say the bridge is already named for his father.


State Sen. Ralph Hudgens, whose district includes the bridge, has also said he would not introduce legislation to name the bridge for Lt. Col. Lemuel Penn unless the Madison County Commission votes a second time in favor of it.   ……….






June 6, 2002




By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc.

The Lemuel Penn slaying caught my attention. At the time I was an Army Lieutenant stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. I had been proud that Georgia had not experienced the bombings and murders that occurred in Alabama and Mississippi (Birmingham Church bombings and the Jackson riots and Medgar Evers slaying going on in the early ‘60’s).

I was close to the situation since I drove through those states in my trips between GA and Texas. I remember stopping at a gas station in Jackson during the riots and saw a “sawed off” shotgun beside the cash register. (As duty officer at Corps Headquarters, I became aware of secret Army contingency plans to “occupy the south” in the event the riots and insurrections became wide-spread. Thankfully, the plans were never implemented!)

Colonel Penn was driving from Fort Benning to Washington and came through Athens. Some Ku Kluxers, meeting in a garage in downtown Athens, saw his car on Broad Street near the UGA Arch and decided to follow him and kill him. They shot him on the Broad River Bridge in Madison County. The case made national news at the time.

Georgia’s Governor Carl Sanders (young, educated and articulate) had condemned the acts in the national media. His actions contrasted greatly with those of the Governors in ALA and Mississippi at the time. I was moved to write a letter to Governor Sanders telling him how proud I was of him and Georgia while residing in Texas with the Army. Sanders was the type Governor that helped Georgia avoid some of the horrors of other states.

Shipp wrote a book about the Penn slaying in 1981 that is worthy of reading as we consider our history and past. Some newer residents of our area and some Athenians like to talk about Moores Ford (happened when I was a child) and other horrible lynchings in our past. However, the worst racist killing I remember in my adult life in this area was the Lemuel Penn slaying that had its origins on Broad Street in the Classic City of Athens on July 11, 1964. For those who did not live through those times and did not see the media reports, I recommend the reading of “Murder at Broad River Bridge”, Bill Shipp, 1981, Peachtree Publishers, Ltd.

This event is much closer in time and present day life than others in our more distant past. It illustrates that ignorance, hate and evil can be present everywhere- including a University Town- where we have a higher degree of educated and sophisticated citizens. We need to realize these things are not just present in remote areas of rural Georgia. Shipp’s book does recognize some leaders of strong mettle (like Judge James Barrow) who took a stand in a very difficult time.


Wendell Dawson, President, AVOC, Inc.

The Athens Banner-Herald

Wednesday, June 5, 2002

Shipp: Searching for someone to blame for Sept. 11? Just look in the mirror

By Bill Shipp

Shortly before dawn, July 11, 1964, a shotgun blast snuffed out the life of an African-American National Guard officer, Lt. Col. Lemuel Penn, as he drove with fellow officers on a lonely highway near Athens.

Penn was on his way home to Washington, D.C., from his annual National Guard training session at Ft. Benning. He had no connection with Northeast Georgia, and he was not a civil rights activist. He was the low-profile director of D.C.'s adult education program. Penn was the victim of a random assassination. His assailants briefly believed they had committed a perfect crime. They killed Penn simply as a warning to ''uppity'' blacks. Less than 12 hours after the slaying, Athens FBI Agent Bob Kane gave his superiors a memo identifying Penn's killers.

If that awful crime had occurred last week instead of 38 years ago, would it have been solved so swiftly?

Probably not. In 1964, the FBI emphasized surveillance of extremist organizations. The Penn case was quickly concluded because the FBI had planted informants in the Klu Klux Klan, whose members gunned down Penn. The Athens FBI office maintained voluminous files on Klan activities even when no crimes were involved. The FBI knew who belonged to the Klan and how violence-prone each member was.

Today, no such extensive files on extremist organizations exist. The FBI long ago abandoned its role as a principal gatherer of intelligence on fringe groups. Thousands of people were killed Sept. 11 because the FBI had scant intelligence on extremists and failed to act on what little knowledge it had.

So what happened between the time the FBI acted as a respected and competent protector of national security and the later era when it spent its time chasing teen-age robbers while mad-dog religious fanatics plotted to blow up the nation? History provides the answer.

The FBI cracked the Penn case because it had infiltrated one of many American right-wing organizations. Nevertheless, critics of the day were incensed that the FBI also spied on the political left. When FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover leaked word that a close associate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an active communist, the media was outraged -- not that King consorted with reds but that Hoover and his men dared uncover such connections and to delve into Dr. King's private life as well.

Though sporadic violence erupted in the South during the civil rights era, the early 1960s were relatively calm across the region. The reason: The FBI often had prior knowledge of planned violent acts and moved to prevent the outrages before they occurred. The agency never received credit for its work in those days.

The civil rights revolution evolved in the mid-1960s into the anti-war movement. Once again, the FBI infiltrated violence-prone organizations, except this time the targeted groups were almost exclusively left-wing. The American media went berserk. When the Watergate scandals tainted the bureau, liberal politicians and editorialists demanded that the FBI be reined in and stripped of most of its intelligence-gathering powers. What ensued was the steep decline of a heroic American institution.

By the time former Federal Judge Griffin Bell became attorney general in 1977, the FBI had settled down to ''catching car thieves and investigating bank robberies,'' Bell recalled last week. ……………….

1-12-05 A B-H – Penn Should be Memorialized


The Athens Banner-Herald



January 10, 2005                      EDITORIAL


Penn should be memorialized at Broad River

Not because we want to remember, but because we can't afford to forget.

That's why Lemuel Penn should be memorialized with a sign at the Georgia Highway 172 bridge. A little more than 40 years ago - in the still-dark, fog-shrouded early morning of July 11, 1964 - Penn was shot to death as he neared the bridge, which spans the Broad River at the Madison County-Oglethorpe County line.

Penn, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, was returning to Washington, D.C. with two other black Reserve officers, Maj. Charles E. Brown and Lt. Col. John D. Howard, following a two-week summer camp at Fort Benning. Shortly after the trio stopped in downtown Athens to change drivers, with Penn replacing Brown behind the wheel of a 1959 Chevrolet Biscayne, the D.C. license plates on the car, and the color of its occupants, attracted the attention of three Ku Klux Klan members driving in a station wagon near the intersection of East Dougherty and North Thomas streets…………..