Generous Orthodoxy  

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Sam Bowers dies; compare with Saddam Hussein

Sam Bowers died yesterday.

Who was he?

From the first day to the last, he considered himself a Christian knight ordained to defend the purity of what was called "the Southern Way of Life." By any account he was the most murderous of the 10,000 murderous members of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. He was our own home-grown terrorist.

A careful reading of the following obituary presents some instructive conclusions about the continuing power of biblical faith in the black community. Note the measured statement by the son of Vernon Dahmer, one of the certifiable heroes of the Civil Rights Movement.

This obituary written by Jennifer Lee appeared in The New York Times today, 11/6/06:

Samuel H. Bowers Jr., the imperial wizard of a Ku Klux Klan faction who was found guilty in 1998 in the firebombing murder of a Mississippi shopkeeper 32 years earlier, died yesterday in a prison hospital in Parchman, Miss.

Mr. Bowers was the charismatic leader of the most violent and secretive division of the Ku Klux Klan, the Mississippi White Knights, which at its peak had up to 10,000 members by law enforcement estimates. The F.B.I. attributed nine murders and 300 beatings, burnings and bombings to Mr. Bowers and the group.

He was convicted eight years ago for the 1966 firebombing of the home of the shopkeeper, Vernon F. Dahmer Sr., 58, who had allowed fellow blacks to pay their poll taxes and register to vote in his store.

Mr. Bowers sent two carloads of Klansmen with 12 gallons of gasoline, white hoods, and shotguns to the Dahmer house near Hattiesburg, Miss., on a cold January night. The burning gasoline was tossed into the house; Mr. Dahmer, whose lungs were seared, held attackers at bay so his family could escape, then died later in the arms of his wife.

Mr. Bowers was brought to trial five times in the Dahmer killing. The first four trials ended in hung juries, but in 1998 he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Previously, he had served six years in federal prison for the killings of Andrew Goodman, Michael H. Schwerner and James Earl Chaney, the civil rights workers who were murdered in Neshoba County, Miss., in 1964.

“Sam Bowers lived a life consumed with hate for African Americans,” said Mr. Dahmer’s son, Vernon Dahmer Jr., in a telephone interview from his home in Hattiesburg. “He caused a lot of pain, suffering and death for many individuals and families in my race. During his life, he never apologized or asked for forgiveness for his actions. Apparently, he felt justified in what he did to his many victims. Now that he has passed from his life, God will be the judge.”

It is worth noting that Charles Marsh, in his distinguished book God's Long Summer includes the only extended interview that Sam Bowers ever gave. It is fascinating in its creepiness.

Also, Will Campbell--being a truly radical Christian-- maintained his ties to Sam Bowers, at some cost to himself. Read about it in Will's book And Also With You.