MAY 7, 1955

The Rev. George Lee was shot to death in Belzoni, Mississippi, after using his pulpit and his printing press to urge other Black Mississippians to vote. 

He became one of the first African Americans to register to vote in the mostly Black Humphreys County. And when he helped register more than 90 other Black voters, white leaders spoke with concern over growing African-American power in the Mississippi Delta. He continued his work in the face of threats and electrified crowds of thousands with his speeches, according to Jet magazine. 

“Pray not for your mom and pop,” he told the crowd. “They’ve gone to heaven. Pray you can make it through this hell.” 

Weeks later, shotgun blasts hit Lee in the face as he was driving home one night, and his Buick smashed into a house. Authorities claimed the lead pellets found in his shattered jaw were fillings from his teeth. 

Mississippi NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers investigated the killing, and FBI tests concluded the pellets were buckshot. No one was ever prosecuted. 

More than 1,000 attended Lee’s funeral, and his widow, Rosebud, decided to open the casket to show how her husband had suffered. Photographs of his body ran in Jet magazine. A few months later, Emmett Till’s mother would do the same for her teenage son when he was killed. 

Lee is among 40 martyrs listed on the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. A museum in Belzoni now bears his name and that of civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.