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Collection Title: Dahmer (Vernon F.) Collection

Collection Number: M250

Dates: 1966-1998

Volume: .25 cu.ft.

Provenance: Donated by Bettie E. Dahmer, September 1988 and by David Shemper, September 1998.

Copyright: This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).

Biographical/Historical Sketch:

Vernon Ferdinand Dahmer was born March 10, 1908, to George and Ellen Dahmer of Forrest County, Mississippi. He attended Bay Spring High School and in March 1952 married Ellie Jewell Davis of Rose Hill. Vernon and Ellie were the parents of seven sons and one daughter. The family home in north Forrest county was part of the Kelly Settlement area.

Vernon Dahmer was a member of Shady Grove Baptist Church where he served as music director and Sunday School teacher. A successful businessman, he was the owner of a store, a sawmill, a planing mill, and a 200 acre farm; he also farmed commercially with 300 additional acres planted in cotton. Dahmer served several terms as president of the Forrest County Chapter, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and led in voter registration drives that were taking place in the 1960's. A voter registration book had been placed in his store in late 1965 so that those who chose to could register there.

On the night of January 10, 1966, the Dahmer home was the target of a fire bomb attack. As family members escaped the burning home, gunshots were fired and Vernon returned fire from withing the house. He was severely burned about the head, face, arms, and upper body before he could escape, and he died on January 11, 1966, from the effect of burns in his respiratory tract.

The Hattiesburg area was stunned by the attack, and began an effort led by the Chamber of Commerce under William Carey College President Dr. Ralph Noonkester to rebuild the Dahmer home. Local and state businesses such as the Masonite Corporation, Alexander Materials, and Frierson Building Materials donated materials, local unions donated their services, and unskilled labor was volunteered by students from the University of Southern Mississippi.

Fourteen men, most with Ku Klux Klan connections were indicted in connection with the attack on the Dahmer home. Thirteen were eventually brought to trial, eight on charges of arson and murder. Four of these were convicted and one entered a guilty plea. In addition, eleven of the defendants were also tried on federal charges of conspiracty to intimidate Dahmer because of his civil rights activities. However, former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, who was believed to have ordered the murder, was tried four times, with each trial ending in a mistrial.

Finally, in August 1998 Bowers was tried for the fifth time. This time, on August 21, 1998, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Since Vernon Dahmer's death, a street in Hattiesburg has been named in his honor and a park now bears his name. On July 26, 1986, a memorial was dedicated at the park in honor of Vernon F. Dahmer.

Scope and Content:

The Vernon F. Dahmer Collection consists of copies of newspaper clippings and programs dating from 1966 to 1998, and 24 photographs taken during the fifth trial of Sam Bowers. Most of the newspaper clippings were collected by the Dahmer family between 1966 and 1986, and follow events surrounding the bombing of their home, community support after the tragedy, and the trials of those men indicted for arson, murder, and conspiracy. Other articles in the collection were published in The Hattiesburg American, The Meridian Star, The Clarion-Ledger and The Times Picayune.

The photographs were taken and donated by local resident, David Shemper, who attended the 1998 Sam Bowers trial. All were taken outside the Forrest County Courthouse and feature members of the Dahmer family, Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, media representatives, and spectators.

Of particular interest in the collection are copies of a telegram sent to Mrs. Dahmer by President Lyndon B. Johnson; the program for Vernon Dahmer's funeral on January 15, 1966; and the program for a memorial marker dedication in Dahmer's honor on July 25, 1986.

Related Collections:


Mrs. Ellie J. Dahmer Oral History Interview, vol. 281.  A copy of the transcript is 
available in the McCain Library, call number F341.5 .M57.

Ira Grupper and Bob Beech Civil Rights Collection

Photograph Log
M250-1 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  Dennis Dahmer exits the Forrest County Courthouse
M250-2 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  Unidentified men surround Vernon Dahmer, Jr. (seen in profile at far right) in back of the Forrest County Courthouse
M250-3 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  Mrs. Ellie J. Dahmer (center) outside the Forrest County Courthouse, accompanied by several law officers
M250-4 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  Ellie J. Dahmer and others watch as Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore speaks with media representatives
M250-5 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  Dennis Dahmer speaks with a reporter from WLBT-TV
M250-6 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  Women entering the Forrest County courthouse
M250-7 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  News media mobile units parked beside the Forrest County Courthouse
M250-8 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  A group of people on the front steps of the Forrest County Courthouse
M250-9 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore addresses media, in back of the Forrest County Courthouse
M250-10 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  People gathered on the front steps of the Forrest County Courthouse
M250-11 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  A cameraman films the crowd outside the Forrest County Courthouse
M250-12 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  Two men talk outside the Forrest County Courthouse. Others are in the background
M250-13 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  A group of men talk in front of the Forrest County courthouse, as a media representative films
M250-14 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  Women talking on the steps of the courthouse. Others are in the background
M250-15 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  Men talking in front of the Forrest County Courthouse
M250-16 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  Two groups of men in front of the Forrest County Courthouse
M250-17 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  Spectators crowd the steps of the Forrest County Courthouse
M250-18 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  A law officer guards the steps of the Forrest County Courthouse, as spectators look on
M250-19 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  Spectators await entrance into the Forrest County Courthouse
M250-20 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore speaks with someone outside the Forrest County Courthouse
M250-21 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, Dennis Dahmer, and Vernon Dahmer, Jr. answer media questions
M250-22 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  Vernon Dahmer, Jr. is flanked by law officers as he leaves the Forrest County Courthouse
M250-23 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  Two women and a young boy stand outside the Forrest County Courthouse
M250-24 Sam Bowers Trial
  4 x 5 B & W August 1998
  A group of men and women talk on the steps of the Forrest County Courthouse


Accession Number: AM 99-44

Dates: 1966

Volume: .50 cu.ft.

Provenance: Mrs. Ellie J. Dahmer and Mr. Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

Copyright: This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).

Form of Material:

Copies of two scrapbooks created by Mr. Vernon Dahmer, Jr. that document the 1966 murder of his father Mr. Vernon Dahmer, Sr. and the trials of the perpetrators. Also included are copies of loose photographs of the Dahmer family.


Accession Number: AM 99-147

Dates: 1999

Volume: 1 item

Provenance: Transferred from the Mississippiana Collection.

Copyright: This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).

Form of Material:

Program of the 54th Annual Convention of the Mississippi State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), held at the Lake Terrace Convetion Center in Hattiesburg, Mississippi on November 11-13, 1999. The Convention paid tribute to the memory of Vernon Dahmer.


Accession Number: AM 99-153

Dates: 1999

Volume: 1 item

Provenance: Purchased.

Copyright: This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).

Form of Material:

Video cassette of documentary film entitled "Killed by the Klan", produced for the Discovery Channel by Stuart Television Productions, Inc. The 1999 film chronicles the murder of Vernon Dahmer in 1966 and the subsequent trials and ultimate conviction in 1998 of the murderer Sam Bowers.


Accession Number: AM 2000-98

Dates: 2000

Volume: 1 item

Provenance: Produced by USM Broadcasting.

Copyright: This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).

Form of Material:

Video cassette of the August 29, 2000 USM University Forum presentation "Pursuing a Late Justice: The Prosecution of Mississippi's Civil Rights Murders, Then and Now". The program featured Mr. Vernon F. Dahmer, Jr., son of slain Civil Rights leader Vernon Dahmer; Mr. James K. Dukes, prosecuting attorney during the 1968 trials of the perpetrators of the 1966 murder of Vernon Dahmer; assistant district attorney Hon. Bob Helfrich, who obtained the 1998 conviction of Sam Bowers for the Dahmer murder; and Clarion-Ledger reporter Mr. Jerry Mitchell, whose investigative reporting led to the re-opening of the prosecutions of the murderers of Medgar Evers, Vernon Dahmer, and other Civil Rights activists. Judge Deborah Gambrell served as moderator.


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Revised: September 10, 2004