Widow shared fight for justice with slain civil rights leader - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

Widow shared fight for justice with slain civil rights leader

FORREST COUNTY, MS (WDAM) -

More than 50 years ago, Ellie Dahmer made a dangerous decision that could have killed her.

"I was willing to go down and try to register to vote," Dahmer said.

Dahmer casually recalled her now historic efforts.

But when one sees the accolades that fill her home in Forrest County, they quickly see that her community puts her in the class of civil rights leaders.

However, she does not claim that distinction easily.

"Yes and no. I know I'm one of the people who made a stand for it," Dahmer said.

She explained, she and her late husband, Vernon Dahmer, Sr., fought for African American's right to vote.

They called for voter registration drives and made their family's store a safe place for blacks to pay poll taxes at a time where the price for those actions could mean death.

Her husband paid that price.

"People who were active in civil rights, they lived in fear. They knew their lives could be taken," Dahmer said.

To understand how this wife and mother had the courage to clash against the status quo, one must learn her foundation.

She said it all started with her parents.

"My parents owned their farm, so we came up kind of independent. We didn't have anymore than anybody else, but we worked our own land," Dahmer said.

Her parents stressed education. She attended two historically black colleges and became a teacher.

This bred-in-the-bone drive is something she recognized in her late husband when they met.

"We knew we could make this place a better world," Dahmer said.

Changing the world meant secretly hosting NAACP meetings where their first home stood on Monroe road in Forrest County.

Ellie said to disguise those meetings, members parked their cars next door at the Dahmer's store, so anyone who passed by would assume they were shopping.

"I sat on the carport. I was the look out person," Dahmer said.

Ellie said she took whatever measures she could to keep her husband safe.

"I answered the doors at night, so we would be sure he wasn't shot down," Dahmer said.

As vigilant as they were, she said Klansman still targeted them, shooting into their home and their store. She said the attacks were so relentless, she and

Vernon slept in shifts until suddenly the attacks stopped.  

"We stopped getting threats the last of 1965, right around Christmas time. We stopped getting calls and we just decided they decided to leave us alone. So, we started sleeping like ordinary people after we stopped getting threats. And this is when it happened to us," Dahmer said.

Ellie said she woke up to Klansman shooting into the house, and throwing firebombs causing flames as high as the ceiling. Frantic to get her family, and young daughter, Betty, out, she broke through a wooden window frame.

"The next thing he was handing Betty out to me and he came out the same window. Betty had got burned on her forehead and both arms real bad and of course he was burned worse than we thought he was," Dahmer said.

For a while after the attack, she said she thought her husband was getting better.

"I laid my head on the bed, beside him, and he raised up and called my name all of a sudden then he fell back. He was gone," Dahmer said.

And so was her will to stay in Mississippi, but their children, her faith and work in her community kept her here and moving forward.

Now, she hopes her sacrifices and her late husband's will be a source of encouragement. She asks one thing of the younger generation.

"Be sure to go and vote, stay in school, do something for your own self, you owe us that," Dahmer said.

Ellie said at 90-years-old, the Lord has left her here for a reason and she is trying to fulfill whatever it may be.

"I hope I can make this world a better place," Dahmer said.

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