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This Day in Georgia History

July 11, 1964

Lemuel Penn Killed

To view video on the Lemuel Penn case, see the Digital Library of Georgia.

While driving through Madison County, Georgia, Lt. Col. Lemuel Penn, a black U.S. Army Reserve officer, was killed by a shotgun blast from a passing car. Penn had been on annual summer active duty at Fort Benning and was returning to his home in Washington, D.C. The driver of the car from which the blast occurred later signed a statement admitting his role and identifying two members of the Klan - Howard Sims and Cecil Myers - as being the ones who actually fired the shots that killed Penn. Sims and Myers were subsequently tried in state superior court, but an all-white jury found them innocent. Federal prosecutors subsequently charged Sims and Myers with violating Penn’s civil rights. A federal district court jury found them guilty, and the two served approximately six years in federal prison. Penn’s murder occurred just nine days before Pres. Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by Congress. Following Penn’s murder, The trial and successful prosecution of Sims and Myers were important factors leading the U.S. Justice Department to set up as civil rights task force. Their efforts led to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. In recognition of this fact, the Georgia Historical Society in 2006 erected a historical marker where the murder took place on Georgia Highway 172 just west of the bridge over the Broad River, which serves as the boundary between Madison and Elbert County.