Vernon Dahmer was a civil rights leader in the mid-1960s, when Mississippians were still required to pay a poll tax in order to register to vote. In January 1966, the successful farmer and businessman publicly offered to pay that tax for black people who couldn’t afford it.
That night his house was firebombed by the Ku Klux Klan. His wife and three of his children were at home.
“We didn’t think anybody would bother the children, but we were wrong, they intended to get all of us January the 10th, 1966,” Vernon’s widow, Ellie Dahmer, told their daughter Bettie during a recent visit to StoryCorps.
“That night, when I waked up, the house was on fire, and it was so bright and so hot. You was screaming to the top of your voice, ‘Lord have mercy. We’re going to get burned up in this house alive.’ I raised the windows up, and then your father was handing you out the window to me.”
Caption: Ellie Dahmer holds a photo of her late husband, Vernon.