Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a time when we honor an incredibly important Civil Rights leader. His long-lasting legacy continues to shape our country. It’s also critical to remember that Martin Luther King Jr. worked hand-in-hand with many others in order to combat racial injustice. Another influential Civil Rights pioneer was Vernon F. Dahmer Sr., who is the subject depicted in a new statue in Downtown Hattiesburg. As Downtown Hattiesburg honors Civil Rights leader Vernon F. Dahmer, it’s time to learn more about him.
Who Was Vernon F. Dahmer Sr.?
Born to a biracial mother in 1908, Vernon F. Dahmer Sr. grew up in Forrest County. He soon became the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP. One of his main focuses was increasing voter equality. Even registering to vote could be a dangerous—or even deadly—act during this time. His quote, “If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” underscored just how powerful the act of casting a ballot could be—and how everyone should have that right.
Tragically, his life was cut short. After a year of awful threats, the Ku Klux Klan set his house on fire, endangering him and his family. He and his wife Ellie were burned badly when they heroically rescued their children from the blaze. Sadly, the smoke inhalation lead to his death soon after in the hospital. The anniversary of his death date, Jan. 10, is now recognized as Vernon F. Dahmer Sr. Day.
About the statue
The new statue in Downtown Hattiesburg is located at the Forrest County Courthouse, a historical spot where African Americans fought for the right to vote during the 1964 Freedom Summer. Displaying Dahmer’s mantra, “If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” the statue serves to memorialize the civil rights leader’s legacy and passion for fighting for equality for all.
The idea for the statue was conceptualized four years ago. Since that time, Dahmer’s family, along with local leaders worked together to bring it to fruition. The statue was created by sculptor Ben Watts and Hattiesburg artist Vixon Sullivan, who worked on it for more than 10 months.
As the city honors Vernon F. Dahmer Sr. with a new statue in Downtown Hattiesburg, it’s important to remember that the rights we take for granted are hard-won. Our town has seen a lot of changes over the decades, and the Hattiesburg spirit shows that we’re willing to fight for progress. Consider visiting Dahmer’s statue and honoring his work.
Hattiesburg has a rich history. If you ever want to learn more about it, visit our blog. You can also call us at (601)-268-0477 or visit our website to learn more about living in town.