Murder At Broad River Bridge. By Bill Shipp, Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, 1981, $8.95.
By Grant Wilson
Vol. 4, No. 3, 1982, p. 15
Lemuel Penn was killed without cause and anonymously by members of the Ku Klux Klan outside Athens, Gal, in 1964. His murder was only one of dozens in the Civil Rights era but his colonel’s rank in the army reserve and the political climate of the time made Penn’s death a national matter. The combined forces of federal and state officials quickly found the murderers but what passed for justice in the South in those days protected the guilty from the law.
The history of discrimination and oppression around Athens at the time of Penn’s murder and the lives of ignorant men filled with fear and hatred give a melancholy backdrop to Bil1 Shipp’s story of the event, the investigation and final resolution. Though brief–91 pages–Shipp’s book is well-researched and is told in a clear journalistic style that pulls the reader, resisting, back to the confused, frightening years of the 1960s.
The story is not pleasant but it is well done. Murder At Broad River Bridge will be helpful to civil rights historians and to the average reader wanting to find reaffirmation of the principles that fought against injustice then, so those ideals may be applied again, now. Penn’s killing was one of the factors that helped break the Klan hold over the South in the sixties. National attention and government pressure was focused on the KKK and it withered under the assault. But though much improved, too much stayed the same, and today there is a small yet mounting growth in the Ku Klux Klan. Shipp’s short chronicle might not have been written but for that. History could have noted Colonel Penn and moved on to other atrocities but Shipp has given the fullest story possible in order that we not avoid an important lesson.
Asleep or awake the Klan lives, like a grub in the ground until a spring of opportunity arrives. It’s spring again, and Bill Shipp’s book reminds us that no matter what its guise the Klan deals out violence, death and injustice which have to be countered. The lesson must be that old battles don’t always stay won but must be fought again and again.
Grant Wilson is a freelance writer and an aspiring gentleman farmer in Kensington, Ga.