Statue to honor slain civil rights activist Vernon Dahmer

By BETH BUNCH,

 If you don’t vote, you don’t count. 

That was the mantra by which Vernon Dahmer lived and died. 

It was for Dahmer’s work during the Civil Rights movement helping people register to vote and other deeds, that Hattiesburg and Forrest County leaders, as well as others, want him memorialized, to show that his work did indeed count.

With the support of the Dahmer family and committee members, work to create a 3/8-inch thick bronze statue in Dahmer’s likeness is almost complete.

Pine Belt artists Ben Watts and Vixon Sullivan are putting the finishing touches on a life-size likeness of Dahmer, which will be erected in a plaza located in the green space in front of the District Attorney’s office, also known as The Annex. The area around the statue will also feature plaques describing Dahmer’s work as a Civil Rights activist in Forrest County as well as the president of the county’s NAACP, benches, landscaping and special lighting. Final details are still being worked out.

Dahmer was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in 1966. His house was firebombed for trying to register people to vote. His wife and children narrowly escaped to safety.

For the sacrifices he made to help ALL people, the Forrest County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously earlier this year to memorialize Dahmer with a monument on the Circuit Courthouse lawn.  

“We have a Civil Rights icon that paid the ultimate price right here in Forrest County, so the board feels like it’s time for us to memorialize Mr. Dahmer’s life,” Supervisors President David Hogan said at the time of the board’s vote. “We believe it’s past time and we’re sorry for what the family has had to endure through the years. The vote today is a vote in that direction.”

Since then, a committee consisting of Dahmer family members, city and county officials and members of the community have met to come up with a design.

The family and committee have been receiving regular updates and photos as the work progresses.

Once the seven-foot statue is complete, the family and committee members will visit Watts’ Columbia studio to view the work and see if any changes need to be made. Once everything is complete, Watts said they will pull a mold and that will be sent to the foundry in Houston, Texas, for casting. That process will take place during a five- to six-month period, according to Watts.

The committee will meet again soon to finalize plans for a pedestal for the project and to make other arrangements for the completion of the project.

The project is estimated to cost about $100,000. The Forrest County supervisors and City of Hattiesburg have each contributed $40,000 toward the project.

“We were asked to participate, and I think it’ll be a nice tribute to the Dahmer family,” said City Council President Carter Carroll.

Hogan said he expected others to help support the project­ and are looking for other support. 

“We are proud that Mayor Barker and the City Council saw fit to partner with up in this important endeavor,” Hogan said.

Hogan is anticipating a spring or early summer 2019 completion and dedication of the project.