New civil rights museum will feature unique piece of history

(WMC-TV) - When the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum opens in 2017 it will feature pieces of a truck firebombed by the KKK in 1956.

One of the men there during that attack remembers it vividly.

The crackling of flames as all Dennis Dahmer heard as his family's home was firebombed by three carloads of KKK members.

Dennis was only 12 years old at the time.

"By that time my only brother Harold was up out of the bed. He came around and the flames were intense, I mean really hot," said Dennis.

Dennis and his family hid in the barn while their father, Vernon, a well known civil rights activist, fended off the KKK's bullets. While Vernon distracted the KKK, Harold was quick to take action.

"He ran under that carport and he got into that truck, and he backed that truck out," said Dennis.

Harold was able to get quick help for his family. The rusty, bullet-riddled truck is all that remains from the night of turmoil and struggle that took his father's life.

Vernon's murder came just one day after he announced that his black neighbors could pay their poll tax at his store.

"Wished that the occasion hadn't never come up like this. Wished it had been for something worthy instead of you know destroying a family," said Harold.

It is because of that sacrifice for equality that Mississippi's first civil rights museum will contain an exhibit of the '56 Ford in Vernon's honor.

The Department of Archives and History took only a few pieces of the truck, which Harold used to find help for his family after the firebombing.

"I don't think you can tell Mississippi Civil rights history without telling the story of Vernon Dahmer and what happened to him and his family. It's such a horrific story," said Cindy Gardner, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

That story lives on with the family, memoirs of a tragic night that took the life of a loved one who stood up for what he believed was right.

For a younger generation who did not live during segregation, the Dahmer family hopes Vernon's sacrifice will be seen as a lesson for any and all who step into the museum.

"Mississippi was kind of a bad place then. They can learn to help make it a better place," said Vernon's widow, Ellie Dahmer.

Vernon is especially remembered for his leadership as president of Forrest County's branch of the NAACP, where he often led voter registration drives.

On his tombstone you will find the eulogy "If you don't vote, you don't count."

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