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Jailed KKK Leader Samuel H. Bowers

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Monday, November 6, 2006

Samuel H. Bowers, 82, the former Ku Klux Klan imperial wizard who was serving a life sentence for the 1966 bombing death of a civil rights leader, died of cardiopulmonary arrest Nov. 5 at Mississippi State Penitentiary Hospital in Parchman.

Mr. Bowers was convicted in August 1998 of ordering the assassination of Vernon Dahmer, who had fought for black rights during Mississippi's turbulent struggle for racial equality.

Dahmer died at 58 after being firebombed outside his home.

Two carloads of Klansmen arrived at Dahmer's Hattiesburg area home in the pre-dawn hours of Jan. 10, 1966. Dahmer kept the Klansmen at bay with a shotgun while his family fled, according to testimony during a four-day trial in Forrest County Circuit Court in 1998.

He died in his wife's arms about 12 hours after the attack.

During the trial, prosecutors said Mr. Bowers ordered the Dahmer attack after becoming enraged that Dahmer was trying to help blacks register to vote.

Mr. Bowers's attorneys claimed he was "sacrificed to the media" to further the political ambitions of then-Attorney General Mike Moore.

Earlier trials for Mr. Bowers, including at least two before all-white juries, ended in mistrials. A 1968 jury split 11 to 1 in favor of guilty, and a 1969 jury split 10 to 2 in favor of conviction.

Mr. Bowers, the son of a salesman, was born in New Orleans on Aug. 6, 1924. He left high school after his parents' marriage ended and joined the Navy.

After leaving the service, he settled in Mississippi and, finding the original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan not aggressive enough, formed his own, more militant faction -- the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan -- that became increasingly active as civil rights workers went south.

In the 1970s, he served six years on federal conspiracy charges for his role in the Neshoba County, Miss., murders of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman.


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