Samuel Bowers

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Samuel Bowers
Born Samuel Holloway Bowers
(1924-08-25)August 25, 1924
New Orleans, Louisiana
Died November 5, 2006(2006-11-05) (aged 82)
Mississippi State Penitentiary
Sunflower County, Mississippi

Samuel Holloway Bowers (August 25, 1924 – November 5, 2006) was a leading white-supremacist activist in the American state of Mississippi during the African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955–1968). In response to this movement, he co-founded a reactionary organization, the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Bowers committed two notorious murders of civil rights activists in southern Mississippi: the 1964 triple murder of Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney near Philadelphia, for which he served six years in federal prison, and the 1966 murder of Vernon Dahmer in Hattiesburg, for which he was sentenced to life in prison 32 years after the crime. He also was accused of bombings of Jewish targets in the cities of Jackson and Meridian in 1967 and 1968 (according to the man who was convicted of some of the bombings, Thomas A. Tarrants III). He died in prison at the age of 82.

Early life

Bowers was born on August 25, 1924, in New Orleans, Louisiana, to Sam Bowers Sr., a salesman, and his wife Evangeline Peyton, daughter of a well-to-do planter. On both sides of his family he was deeply rooted in the southern Mississippi—New Orleans area. His mother's father had a plantation, while his father's father, Eaton J. Bowers, was a four-term Congressman from Mississippi's Gulf Coast.[1] Representative Bowers was an explicitly virulent opponent of equality for African Americans. In a speech to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1904, during his freshman term, he said: "Let me say to the gentleman from Massachusetts that it is evident that we have at least two theories as to how the negro should be dealt with. One may be termed his idea of the development by higher education, social equality, and the like, while the other might be dominated [sic] the Southern idea of the absolute segregation of the two races, the fitting the negro for that sphere and station which, based upon an experience born of more than a century's knowledge of him as a slave and nearly forty years' experience with him as a freedman, we believe he can acceptably and worthily fill, with absolute denial of social intercourse and with every restriction on his participation in political affairs and government that is permissible under the Federal Constitution. . . . The restriction of suffrage was the wisest statesmanship ever exhibited in that proud Commonwealth . . . . We have disfranchised not only the ignorant and vicious black, but the ignorant and vicious white as well . . . ."[2]

Sam Bowers Jr. attended high school in Jackson, Mississippi. While a high school student, Bowers worked part-time at the newly established Mississippi School Book Depository in Jackson. He was among the first group of staff members hired after the state legislature approved of and passed a free textbook program championed by Governor Paul B. Johnson, Sr.[3] During World War II, he served in the United States Navy. Eventually, he settled in Laurel, Mississippi and started his own small business, Sambo Amusement Company, variously reported to be a pinball machine business and a vending machine business.[4]

White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan

Bowers, along with many other southern whites, was highly disturbed by and deeply feared the "civil rights movement" which they believed to be an antagonistic movement led by far left, well funded political subverts. He perceived the new civil rights legislation and forced integration as a way to force miscegenation upon whites.[citation needed]

Bowers perceived the original Ku Klux Klan as being too passive. On February 15, 1964, at a meeting in Brookhaven, Mississippi, he convinced about 200 members of the original Knights to defect and join his Klan, to be called the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, that would not hesitate to reveal the true nature of CORE, SPLC, NAACP, and SDS to achieve its goals. He became the group's fraternal "imperial wizard".

Bowers adopted a code of secrecy with the purpose of preserving law and order in the South.

Philosophy of the White Knights

His Klan, as Bowers wrote in one of his internal memoranda, was "a nocturnal organization that works best at night. We must remember that the Communists who are directing the agitators want us to engage in pitched battles in the streets so they can declare martial law."[citation needed]

In an "Imperial Executive Order" issued at a Klan meeting on June 7, 1964, and recorded by the FBI, Bowers wrote:

"This summer, within a very few days, the enemy will launch his final push for victory here in Mississippi. This offensive will consist of two basic salients [...]
One. Massive street demonstrations by blacks used by communists [...] designed to provoke whites into counterdemonstrations and open, pitched street battles [...] to provide an excuse for:
Two. A decree from subversive authorities in charge of the national government [...] declaring martial law [...]
When the first waves of blacks hit our streets this summer, we must avoid open daylight conflict with them [...] we must reveal their leaders as the immoral hypocrites they are."[5]

Weaving religion into the mix, he further declared "As Christians we are disposed to kindness, generosity, affection, and humility in our dealings with others. As militants we are disposed to use physical force against our enemies. How can we reconcile these two apparently contradictory philosophies? The answer of course, is to purge malice, bitterness, and vengeance from our hearts."[6]

Violent campaign

In 1964, community activists from CORE and SDS, primarily from Northern states, launched Freedom Summer. Later that year, five of these activists: Charles Eddie Moore, James Chaney, Henry Hezekiah Dee, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were murdered. Some Klan members were revealed to have acted on their own in regard to targeting these activists, and murdering them.

In January 1966, Bowers, along with a number of other members of the White Knights of the KKK, was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee to testify about Klan activities. Although Byron De La Beckwith gave his name when asked by the committee (but would answer no other substantive questions), other witnesses, such as Bowers, invoked the fifth amendment even in response to that question.[7]

In 1966 alleged members of the White Knights firebombed the house of Vernon Dahmer. Dahmer was a civil rights activist with four sons serving in the United States Military, and he was working successfully to register African Americans to vote. Dahmer died of horrendous burn injuries which covered forty percent of his body after the firebombing of his home.

According to later testimony by ex-White Knights member T. Webber Rogers, Bowers gave the direct order to have Dahmer killed "in any way possible." After four previous trials ended in deadlock (a 1968 jury split 11 to 1 in favor of guilty, and in 1969 a jury split 10-2 in favor of conviction),[8] Bowers was convicted for the murder in August 1998 and sentenced to life in prison.

In 1967, alleged White Knights began a campaign against Jewish targets in Mississippi. Beth Israel Congregation in Jackson and Congregation Beth Israel in Meridian were bombed. Also, the home of Jackson's Rabbi Perry Nussbaum was attacked. The actual perpetrators of these crimes were suspects Thomas A. Tarrants III and Kathy Ainsworth.

The FBI became involved in the case and, with threatening accusations against local law enforcement, began to track down potential bombers.

The direction in the case came when two Klan brothers, Alton Wayne Roberts and Raymond Roberts, met with the FBI and police in exchange for reward money and immunity. Alton Wayne Roberts previously had been sentenced to 10 years for violating the civil rights of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman. He agreed to cooperate in order to receive a reduced sentence.

A joint FBI and local police operation ambushed Tarrants and Ainsworth[citation needed]. Ainsworth was killed and Tarrants was severely wounded[citation needed].

Sam Bowers was convicted in the Chaney-Schwerner-Goodman killings and served more than six years at McNeil Island Federal Prison in Washington. He was released in 1976. At the time of his death, the former Imperial Wizard was serving a 1998 sentence of life in a Mississippi prison for the 1966 bombing.


Bowers was incarcerated and died at the Mississippi State Penitentiary

Bowers served a life sentence for the 1966 bombing death of civil rights leader Vernon Dahmer.[9] According to the commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), only one person visited Bowers during his incarceration. The visitor claimed to be Bowers' brother, and listed a false address and a fictitious Mississippi town as his residence.[10] Bowers died in the Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman) Hospital of cardio-pulmonary arrest on Sunday, November 5, 2006, aged 82.[9]

After Bowers died, an out-of-state relative came forward to claim his body.[11]


  1. New York Times 2006.
  2. Shurter 1908, pp. 258, 260.
  3. "First Free Textbooks Go to Copiah County". Jackson Daily Clarion Ledger. Aug 21, 1940.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Marsh 2001, pp. 35-37.
  5. Whitehead 1970.
  6. Marsh 1999, p. 61.
  7. Vollers 1995.
  8. Washington Post 2006.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Associated Press 2006.
  10. Mitchell 2006, p. B1.
  11. WLBT 2006.

Socialist Action 2006


Further reading

External links