Welcome to Black History 365, a series where I explain, educate, and explore historical events, unsung black figures in world history, and the struggles and triumphs of black people worldwide. In this entry, I will present a true crime story that’s a cold case to this day, and that is the murder of Louis Allen.
Louis Allen ran a small timber business in Liberty Mississippi the county seat of Amite County, a county that was notorious for having a heavy presence of the Ku Klux Klan. Allen was a World War II veteran with a seven-grade education and was a landowner. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating which I spoke about in previous episodes were active in the county, but Allen did not attempt to register nor become involved in the movement. Allen’s life changed on the morning of September 25th, 1961, when he witnessed the murder of NAACP leader and SNCC supporter Herbert Lee by Eugene Hurst, a state legislator.
Allen witnessed as Hurst aimed his pistol at Lee who stood defenseless with empty hands and an unlit cigarette in his mouth after a limited verbal exchange. Regardless of Allen being a witness or not, he felt compelled to speak out against the crime. As a result, Allen was pressured by local law enforcement officials to lie about what happened. Allen would go on to testify that he had seen Lee holding a tire iron with the intention of hitting Representative Hurst. A piece of iron was “found” under Lee’s body by the same authorities that coerced Allen to be on their side.
With that, the coroner’s jury exonerated Hurst the next day, After testifying, Allen was uncomfortable perjuring himself to survive from the wraith of Eugene Hurst. Allen would say “I did not want to tell no story about the dead because you can’t ask the dead for forgiveness,” he told SNCC organizer Bob Moses. As a result, Allen decided to tell the truth at the grand jury hearing that would examine the coroner’s jury. By doing this, he knew it meant putting his life on the line.
Bob Moses arranged for Allen to meet with Justice Department officials, but when protection was offered, Allen reneged to testify. However, it was too late, officials in Liberty had already been informed that Allen was willing to testify.
Whites stopped patronizing Allen’s business and cut off his credit. Additionally, Deputy Sheriff Daniel Jones, whose father was a Ku Klux Klan leader, began repeatedly harassing and arresting Allen on trumped-up charges such as trespassing or writing bad checks.
A year later in 1962, Allen filed an affidavit detailing some of the indignant incidents he experienced at the hands of law enforcement. He described one particular encounter in which Deputy Jones struck his face with a flashlight and broke his jaw. Allen would write “They (the police) have someone out to my house, watching me all the time”. Allen pleaded for help, asking that “this matter be investigated at once because if not this kind of intimidation will continue.
Allen’s efforts were futile because the harassment continued. He wanted to leave the county, but outstanding debts and a sick mother kept him there. After his mother passed away, Allen made plans to leave.
On January 31st, 1964, the night before his planned departure, Allen’s teenage son found his father’s dead body lying in the driveway. The entire left side of his face was blown off. Deputy Jones, the same who threatened Allen’s life on numerous occasions was made the lead investigator on the case. Officially, the murder remains unsolved today, thus making it a cold case.
When news of Allen’s murder reached a COFO staff meeting in Hattiesburg, Mississippi the following morning, the group was in the middle of a deep debate about the potential summer project in Mississippi which would become called Freedom Summer aka what would become Mississippi Burning. Moses had kept out much of the argument his mind still on the murder of Allen. Being visibly affected by the death caused him to be assertive, undoubtedly swinging favorable staff support for the project which would later be known as the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project. Moses would say, “It became clear that we had to do something.”
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