Herbert Lee was a 42 year old a dairy farmer and father of nine children in Amite County. He had been a member of the NAACP since the early 1950s. When SNCC voting rights activists started working in Amite and Pike counties in the fall of 1961, Lee, a close friend of the Amite County NAACP branch chairman E.W. Steptoe, became involved, helping to transport the workers and orient them to the locale. In mid-September, Assistant United States Attorney John Doar and others from the Justice Department interviewed several persons in Amite County about infringements of the voting laws. They learned that one E.H. Hurst, a member of the Mississippi state legislature, had been threatening to harm activists in Amite, including Herbert Lee.
On the morning of September 25, E.H. Hurst ran into Herbert Lee at a cotton gin. Lee, who grew up with Hurst, was arriving while Hurst was departing. Hurst cornered Lee on the side of Lee’s pickup truck and shot him dead in front of about a dozen witnesses. Lee’s body remained next to his truck while the sheriff quickly organized a coroner’s jury. Several black witnesses, including Louis Allen, fearing for their own lives, lied to the coroner’s jury and testified that Lee, a small man, threatened Hurst, who stood 6 feet 3 and weighed about 200 pounds, with a tire iron. On the day Lee was slain, the coroner’s jury concluded Hurst shot in self-defense.
After the coroner’s jury ruled the homicide justifiable, there were no further legal proceedings in the Lee murder. However, one witness, Louis Allen, later told FBI investigators that he had been forced to lie to the coroner’s jury. Allen endured beatings and harassment immediately after he came forward to the FBI and, on January 31, 1964, he too was killed in Amite County. There have been no arrests in the Allen murder.