Vernon Dahmer: “If You Don’t Vote, You Don’t Count”

1 Posted by - October 25, 2021 - Black First, BLACK MEN, CIVIL RIGHTS, LATEST POSTS, POLITICS

African-American civil rights leader Vernon Ferdinand Dahmer, Sr., was president of the Forest County chapter of the NAACP in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Born on March 10, 1908, in Forrest County, Mississippi, he was the son of Ellen Louvenia Kelly and George Dahmer. His mother was born to a white slave owner and one of his slaves.

Young Dahmer attended Bay Spring High School where he received a tenth-grade education. He had a light complexion and could easily pass for white, but he decided to face the daily challenges of being a black man in Mississippi.

Dahmer married three times. His first wife was Winnie Laura Mott; their marriage of five years ended in divorce. In 1949, Dahmer married Aura Lee Smith, who ultimately passed away after a long illness. Ellie Jewel Davis was his third and final wife, a teacher from Rose Hill, Mississippi. The couple met after working on the school board together and married in March 1952.

Dahmr was the owner of a grocery store, sawmill, and also cotton farm. He was also a very involved member of Shady Grove Baptist Church and served as a music director and Sunday School teacher. During the Civil Rights Movement, Dahmer went on to serve as president of the Forrest County Chapter of the NAACP, as he was known to treat people fairly regardless of who they were or the color of their skin.


In 1949, Dahmer was in the process of filling out his new registration card when Luther Cox would not let him re-register. Cox, a white segregationist, was the authority figure in charge of registered voters in Forrest County. He would only authorize a registration of an African American if they could answer the question “How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?”

Leaders in the local black community, including Dahmer, got together and filed a lawsuit against Cox. Dahmer’s testimony helped demonstrate the pattern of discrimination in the county by Cox. During the 1950s, Dahmer and Medgar Evers founded a youth NAACP chapter, but it shut down within a year. Dahmer was known to keep a voter registration book in his grocery store in the late 1960s to make it easier for African Americans to register.

One night, the Dahmer household was attacked one night while the family was sleeping. Although the family had a shotgun by their nightstand, the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan managed to attack the home. Gunshots were fired at the home and gas jugs were thrown through the windows. The family managed to escape, but both Dahmer and his wife were burned.

Dahmer did not survive his injuries. He died at the hospital, but prior to his passing, he spoke to news reporters:

“I’ve been active in trying to get people to register to vote. People who don’t vote are deadbeats on the state. I figure a man needs to do his own thinking. What happened to us last night can happen to anyone, white or black. At one time I didn’t think so, but I have changed my mind.”

Dahmer died January 10, 1966 at the age of 57.  Sam Bowers was arrested for the murder of Vernon Dahmer and received 32 years in prison.



  • Dennis Dahmer July 7, 2017 - 6:30 am

    Corrections to this story:

    1. VERNON DAHMER mother parents were Warren Kelly (mulatto) and Henrietta Kelly (White). His father was George Dahmer (White).

    2. His second wife name was ORA LEA .

    3. He was allowed by local sheriff, after voting rights were won, to keep a “poll tax receipt” book at store, not a voter registration book. You still had to go to the county courthouse to register. VERNON was allowed to have this book at store to collect the $2.00 poll tax to make it easier for Blacks to start the process of registering. At that time, it was still dangerous for Blacks just to try and register to vote, so his thinking was to make it easier for Blacks to start the process by paying the tax in a friendly environment, build their courage to register and lessen the chance of violence and reprisals by Whites congregating at court house to see which Blacks would try and register. He would pay the poll tax for any Black person, who could not pay, if they were willing to go to court house and register. VERNON and others would go with them to court house to register, if they were afraid.

    4. This “bubbles in a bar of soap” story I have heard before associated with Blacks trying to register. I have never heard of this happening with Vernon Dahmer, Sr. However, as part of the voter registration test, if you ever got to that point in process, the local register of voters (Theron Lynn in this case) would ask the applicant to interpret a part of the U. S. constitution. This test question was subjective and the far majority of Blacks failed. Black college students, teachers, college professors, college educated Black folks, Black business owners, all failed the test question. Whites with little, or no education passed the test. Their were only a hand full of Blacks registered to vote prior to the lawsuits being filed, and I suspect this was done only to make the process seem fair to anyone who would question it. I am not sure if this hand full of Black registrants actually voted on a regular basis, I suspect not for fear of reprisals by local Whites.

    5. VERNON DAHMER uncle’s, Kelly’s by name, (Quadroons) did vote, but they looked White and most White people thought they were White, plus they were part of the large land owning Kelly family. His sister and other very light complexion Blacks (octaroons) from Kelly Settlement did register to vote, but here again, their White appearance was the reason. VERNON DAHMER was denied voter registration because of his Civil Rights activities and the fact that he let it be known to all that he was Black. He did not deny his racial heritage. Later on as the Civil Rights movement started to gain momentum, the local White power structure told him that if all he wanted was to vote, he could, just don’t bring the rest of the Blacks with him…..he refused their offer…..a hand full of Blacks voting was not going to change anything…..and a change in segregationist laws and behavior was a lot of what the Civil Rights movement was about!

    5. For more Info on the racial orgins of Vernon Dahmer, Sr., got to the site “renegade south” and read the story on him, which is about 90% accurate.

    • Tony Keeton July 7, 2017 - 1:35 pm

      Thank you, Dennis, for the clarification and for the additional information. I will certainly learn more about this remarkable man!