Washington — Lawerence Guyot, a civil rights leader who survived being beaten in jailhouses in the Deep South in the ’60s, has died at 73.
Guyot was born in Pass Christian, Mississippi on July 17, 1939. He became a civil rights activists while attending Tougaloo College, and graduated in 1963. He received a law degree from Rutgers in 1971 before moving to Washington. There, he helped elect fellow Mississippian and civil rights activist Marion Barry as mayor in 1978.
“When he came to Washington, he continued his revolutionary zeal,” Barry told The Washington Post Friday. “He was always busy working for the people.”
Guyot had a history of heart problems and also suffered from diabetes. His daughter Julie Guyot-Diangone said he died at home sometime Thursday night in Mount Rainier, Maryland. Media reports said he passed away Friday.
The Mississippi native worked for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He served as director of the 1964 Freedom Summer Project, which brought young people to the state to register blacks to vote.
He participated in the 40th anniversary of the project in 2004 to make sure the new generation could learn about the civil rights moment.
“There is nothing like having risked your life with people over something immensely important to you,” he told the Clarion Ledger that year. “As Churchill said, there’s nothing more exhilarating than to have been shot at — and missed.”
Lawrence Guyot also chaired the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which sought to have blacks included among the state’s delegates to the 1964 Democratic National Convention. The bid was rejected, but Fannie Lou Hamer — another civil rights leader — addressed the convention during a nationally televised appearance.
Guyot was severely beaten several times in jail, including at the Mississippi State Penitentiary known as Parchman Farm. He continued to advocate voting rights until he died, and encouraged people to vote for President Obama.
His daughter said, “He was a civil rights field worker right up to the end.”
Julie Guyot-Diangone also said she saw her father on a bus encouraging people to vote and asking about their political views. He was an early advocate of gay marriage, and noted that interracial marriage was illegal in some states when he married a white woman. His wife, Monica, also worked for racial equality when they met.
Executive director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi, Susan Glisson, said Guyot was “a towering figure, a real warrior for freedom and justice.”
“He loved to mentor young people. That’s how I met him,” she said.
She said although he was very opinionated, he always backed up his opinions with detailed facts. Glisson also Guyot’s efforts laid the groundwork for the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
“Mississippi has more black elected officials than any other state in the country, and that’s a direct tribute to his work,” she said.