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Samuel H. Bowers, 82; ex-Klan chief ordered the death of civil rights leader

From the Associated Press

Former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Samuel H. Bowers, convicted eight years ago of ordering the 1966 bombing death of a civil rights leader, has died. He was 82.

Bowers died Sunday morning of cardiopulmonary arrest in the Mississippi State Penitentiary Hospital in Parchman, said Mississippi Department of Corrections spokeswoman Tara Booth.

The Klansman was convicted in August 1998 of ordering the assassination of Vernon Dahmer Sr., a civil rights activist who had fought for blacks’ rights during Mississippi’s turbulent struggle for racial equality. He was sentenced to life in prison.

“He was supposed to stay there until he died. I guess he fulfilled that,” Dahmer’s widow, Ellie Dahmer, told the Associated Press on Sunday. “He lived a lot longer than Vernon Dahmer did.”

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Dahmer, who championed equal voting rights for blacks, died at 58 after being fire-bombed outside his home in Hattiesburg, Miss., on Jan. 10, 1966. The attack came after Dahmer announced that residents could pay their poll taxes at his grocery store, which was next to his home. The home and store also were torched.

When the Dahmer family awoke to honking horns before dawn that day, two carloads of Klansmen were waiting outside. They threw firebombs at Dahmer when he left his house, according to court testimony during a four-day trial in Forrest County Circuit Court in 1998.

Dahmer was able keep the Klansmen at bay with a shotgun while his family fled, but flames had seared his lungs, and he died in his wife’s arms about 12 hours later.

During the trial, prosecutors claimed Bowers ordered the attack after becoming enraged that Dahmer was trying to register blacks to vote.

Bowers’ lawyers claimed he was “sacrificed to the media” to further the political ambitions of the attorney general at the time, Mike Moore.

Earlier trials for Bowers, including at least two before all-white juries, ended in mistrials.

Dahmer’s 77-year-old son, Vernon Dahmer Jr., said Bowers “caused a lot of pain, suffering and death for many innocent individuals and families of my race.”

“During his life, he never apologized or asked forgiveness for his actions. Apparently, he felt justified for what he did to his many victims,” the son said. “Now that he has passed from this life, God will be the judge.”

Bowers had a history of violence and served a six-year sentence after being convicted in 1967 on federal charges of violating the civil rights of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.

The three civil rights workers, in Mississippi in 1964 to register black voters, were beaten, shot and buried in an earthen dam. Bowers allegedly approved the killings as head of the KKK.

Those slayings inspired the 1988 movie “Mississippi Burning.”

Dahmer’s widow said Bowers’ death brings little closure to a wound she has nursed for decades.

“It won’t bring Vernon back,” she said. “I lost a wonderful husband and my children lost a father. We lost a community leader. We lost a Christian man who saw good in people.”


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