The eyes of the nation turned to Madison County 50 years ago July 11 when a black WWII veteran was murdered in the night by the Ku Klux Klan.
The killing came just nine days after the passage of the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964.
That legislation officially ended the Jim Crow era of “separate but equal” by prohibiting racial discrimination in the workplace or at any accommodations or facilities open to the public.
But ink on a page in a federal building was one thing. Actually implementing such an act was an entirely different matter — not a legislative one, but a battle of the soul in a racially divisive society.
There was resistance. There was violence.
And one of the most notable cases happened right here.
In the early morning hours of July 11, 1964, two shotgun blasts ripped through the rural quiet of Madison County, claiming the life of Penn, a 49-year-old black man, a World War II veteran, a husband and a father of three, who supervised five vocational schools in Washington, D.C., while also being an active church member and Boy Scout leader, who had organized a Scout camp for underprivileged black youth.
The federal government responded in force, sending dozens of investigators to northeast Georgia. The case became a test of the equal rights issue. If there was no justice for a distinguished black educator and war veteran murdered in the night as he drove home from reserve duty to his family, would the Civil Rights Act hold up against the resistance?
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