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06/06/02 - ATHENS CONNECTION TO TERRORISM IN THE '60'S; MURDER, RACISM AND THE FBI

 June 6, 2002

ATHENS CONNECTION TO TERRORISM IN THE 60'S; MURDER, RACISM AND THE FBI

By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc.

I don’t always agree with Bill Shipp (he is a little too much of a Barnes Booster at times) but think he makes some salient points on the Terrorism issue. Activists and “politically correct persons) have neutered many of our Governmental Agencies. At the same time, many such critics are on the forefront of urging the Environmental Protection Agency etc to use all the power they can against businesses, local governments and citizens. MANY SPEAK “WITH A FORKED TONGUE.”

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.

READ THE BOOK!!


The Athens Banner-Herald

Wednesday, June 5, 2002

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

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. The Atlanta attorney moved to upgrade and reform the agency. Bell brought in a new director, overhauled the bureau's mission and set it back on a path to being a protector of national security. But Bell was a short-timer and reform of the FBI was relatively short-lived.

A few months ago, Bell revisited the FBI, this time as a member of a blue-ribbon reform panel on FBI security lapses. The Commission for Review of FBI Security Programs, chaired by Bell's FBI director, Bill Webster, returned a scathing report in March on astonishing gaps in the bureau's security exposed by the Robert Hanssen spy case. That report has since been eclipsed by the ''Phoenix memo'' and the ''Minneapolis memo,'' FBI field reports indicating the horrors of Sept. 11 could have been avoided by more vigilance and responsiveness.

A whole lot of finger-pointing is going on these days about the bureau's failures. Former attorneys general and bureau directors have been blamed. Motives of the Bush administration have been called into question. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have been mentioned as culprits.

A quick perusal of the FBI story over the past 40 years suggests the fault lies elsewhere. We are the guilty parties -- we, the left-leaning media, some of whom are infected with a hatred of law-enforcement agencies; and we, the people who are fearful, perhaps rightly so, of an agency bent on peeling away our privacy. We have demanded over the years through our elected representatives that the FBI back off and stand down, and it did, which is a big part of the reason we were blindsided on Sept. 11.


 Bill Shipp is editor of Bill Shipp's Georgia, a weekly newsletter on government and business. He can be reached at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160 or bshipp@bellsouth.net.


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