Lawrence Guyot: Civil rights activist

 

Lawrence Guyot was a leader in the civil rights movement, a lawyer and community activist. As an activist in Mississippi in the 1960s, Guyot endured arrests and beatings.

Guyot began working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1962 and became director of the 1964 Freedom Summer Project in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He was the founding chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which sought to include African-Americans among the Democratic Party's delegates to the national convention.

In one of the bloodiest chapters of the civil rights movement in Mississippi, Guyot and others including civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer were arrested in 1963 and severely beaten in jail. Guyot had gashes on his head and was bruised from his chest to his lower legs.

Later he was taken from his cell and shown to a group of white men gathered behind the jail. "Now you know what he looks like," the jailer told the crowd. "You can take care of him whenever you find him." The door to his jail cell was left unlocked, but Guyot knew that if he attempted to escape, he would probably be killed.

Dorie Ladner, a fellow activist, saw Guyot soon after he had been released from jail: "His face looked like a piece of raw steak. He was convinced that they were going to kill him, but Medgar Evers had been killed that night, and they let him and four women go."

In 1964 Guyot helped lead a demonstration by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, challenging the credentials of the all-white state delegation. Their challenge was rejected, but Hamer spoke before a national TV audience, and by 1968 Guyot had full credentials as a member of the Mississippi delegation.

He was a college student when he began working for civil rights. He graduated from Rutgers University law school in 1971 and moved to Washington, where he worked as a legal counsel for various city agencies. He became a neighborhood advisory commissioner and was an informal adviser to his fellow Mississippi native, Marion Barry, a former mayor. Until his retirement seven years ago, Guyot was a programme monitor for the District of Columbia's Department of Human Services' Office of Early Childhood Development.

From the 1990s until the mid-2000s he appeared as a commentator on Fox News defending the civil rights legacy. "It is still a struggle," Guyot said in 2005. "Getting people organised to bring about political change is as necessary today as it was in 1955."

Hamil R Harris and Matt Schudel, The Washington Post

Lawrence Thomas Guyot, lawyer and civil-rights activist: born Pass Christian, Mississippi 17 July 1939; married Monica Klein (one daughter, one son); died Mount Rainier, Maryland 23 November 2012.

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