George Lee

Background

George Lee was born in 1904 in Edwards, Mississippi. He was killed in 1955. In the 1930s, Lee became a preacher in Belzoni. A supporter of civil rights and a local NAACP official, Lee served as Vice President of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership. He was one of the first black people registered to vote in Humphreys County in the mid 20th century. Lee was a successful local business leader and the pastor of four churches. With his wife, Rosebud, Lee also ran a small printing business.

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 he raised the ire of whites in Belzoni in doing so, and he began to receive death threats. In the spring of 1955, a mass rally for voter registration in Mound Bayou, sponsored by the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, drew 10,000 people to hear Congressman Charles Diggs and others, including George Lee. A journalist who was present, Simeon Booker, later recalled that Lee told his audience that if they voted the Delta would one day have a black congressman. On May 7, 1955, about two weeks after the Mound Bayou rally, Lee was dead. The official report claimed he died of a car accident, but evidence pointed to a Klan killing. An autopsy revealed that Lee had lead pellets in his face that were consistent with buckshots, and witnesses at the scene reported hearing shots.

When news circulated that shotgun pellets were also found in the tires of the car, Sheriff Shelton spread the rumor that Rev. Lee had been having an extra-marital affair and was killed by a romantic rival.

Legal Status

Civil rights activists searched the Delta looking for evidence to find the killers, and the FBI opened an investigation. Medgar Evers, as someone later reported, “cut his teeth” on the Lee case. Despite the persistence of Evers and many others, the FBI investigation ran out of steam and no charges were ever brought. Sheriff Shelton closed his file and claimed that Lee was fatally injured in a traffic accident. When doctors pointed out the lead pellets pulled from Lee’s head and face, Shelton retorted that they were probably dental fillings. The doctors responded that dentists did not use lead for fillings, but Shelton refused to investigate. A coroner’s jury concluded that Lee died of unknown causes.