Lemuel Penn was considered by her peers and his community to be a great person and a pillar of the community. He served in World War II, was a Bronze Star recipient, a Howard University graduate, a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, a father of three and became the Assistant Superintendent of public schools in Washington D.C. At just 48 he had achieved so much and was poised to do more–that is until July 11, 1964.
The Evening of July 11, 1964
Penn was on his way home from a Fort Benning summer camp. In the car was two other Black Reservist. The drive would be a lengthy one through what was basically Klan country. Three members of the United Klans of America–Cecil Myers, Howard Sims, and James Lackey–noticed the plates on the vehicle and followed.
Their truck caught up with the Reserve officers’ car on Georgia Route 172 between Colbert and Athens. Myers and Sims opened fire on the car and Lemuel Penn was killed.
Court and the Civil Rights Act
Initially, when Sims and Myers went to Georgia’s superior court they were found not guilty thanks to an all-White jury. This is when the federal government stepped in. The Civil Right Acts passed several days before Lemuel Penn’s death. This case would be one of the landmark trials under the act and eventually led to the Civil Rights Act of 1968. June 27, 1966 saw Sims, Lackey and Myers brought in along with other Klansmen for trial. After two weeks, Sims and Myers were given ten years on conspiracy charges with everyone else being acquitted.
Of the three involved in the murder, only Cecil Myers is alive. Sims was killed in 1981 after being shot while James Lackey passed in 2002.