Considered to be the first person to die in the fight for civil rights for Blacks in America, George Lee's name is the first one of 40 names listed on the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.

Rev. George W. Lee lived and pastored a Baptist congregation in Belzoni, MS. A staunch supporter of civil rights and a local NAACP official, Rev. Lee constantly urged his congregation to register and vote. He knew that the only way to change things for the black citizens of Mississippi, a state gripped in the vise of racism, was through the ballot.

When Rev. Lee tried to vote, the county sheriff, Ike Shelton, refused to accept his poll tax payment. Rev. Lee reported this to federal authorities and was subsequently allowed to vote, but had angered several of the white citizens of Belzoni in doing so.

On the morning of May 7, 1955, while tending his small grocery store, George Lee was visited by two white men. His wife, sick in bed, overheard bits and pieces of the conversation and knew that Rev. Lee was being warned to stop registering blacks in Humphreys County to vote and to remove his own name from the voting rolls.

When the men left, Mrs. Lee asked what they had wanted. Rev. Lee told her that they were just salesmen trying to sell him items for their store.

Later that evening, Mrs. Lee heard the same white men's voices when they returned to the store to talk to Rev. Lee. He once again told her that they were simply salesmen. Shortly afterwards, Rev. Lee told his wife that he needed to close the store early and go to the dry cleaners to pick up a suit that he meant to wear the next day.

Mrs. Lee later believed that Rev. Lee left home to avoid having her become a victim of his assailants.

While driving down a street not far from his home, a shotgun blast ripped through the car. Rev. Lee lost control of the car and crashed onto the porch of a lady who, at first, claimed that she saw the car of the assailants.... she later changed her mind and said she saw nothing.

Though his face was ripped off and had to be sutured together by the funeral home, the county coroner declared that George Lee's death was attributable to the car crash. When asked about the hundreds of shotgun pellets lodged in Rev. Lee's face and neck, he snidely replied, "Oh, they're just dental fillings!".

When news circulated about shotgun pellets also being found in the tires of the car, Ike Shelton concocted a story that suggested that Rev. Lee had been having an extra-marital affair and had been killed by a romantic rival.

News of Rev. Lee's assassination traveled across the country, drawing mourners from near and far. Ebony Magazine covered it, with pictures from the funeral, which had to be held outside because the church was too small to accommodate the crowd.

I still have a copy of the clipping from Ebony Magazine. It includes a picture of my mom, uncle, and grandfather,who were at the funeral. Rev. Lee's wife, Rose Bud, was my mother's stepsister. I later learned of the existence of a book, "Separate, but Equal: The Mississippi Photographs of Henry Clay Anderson" which graphically depicts the story of Rev. Lee's murder. Mr. Anderson 's photos were the same ones that appeared in Ebony Magazine.

Every time there is an election and I don't feel like going because it's raining or the lines are long or the parking is inconvenient or even when I don't like any of the candidates, I'm reminded of the sacrifice that Rev. Lee made in order to guarantee me the right to vote.... I hope you'll remember, too.

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