In Liberty, Mississippi, lived Louis Allen, a World War II veteran with a seventh-grade education who always stood up for his rights. He was one of the few Blacks in Liberty to own land, and he ran a small timber business. Allen was known for always wearing a hat, which was his way of telling people that he never lacked self-confidence.
He never looked for trouble but trouble found him. On September 25, 1961, Allen witnessed the murder of NAACP leader and SNCC supporter Herbert Lee by Eugene Hurst, a powerful state legislator. Allen was walking past an old cotton gin when he saw the White legislator Hurst exchanging words with local Black activist Lee, who was unarmed but had an unlit cigarette in his mouth.
Allen watched as Hurst shot and killed Lee but he was pressured by local law enforcement officials into lying about the shooting and to say that it was self-defense. Allen testified that he had seen Lee holding a tire iron with the aim of hitting Hurst. The same authorities that coerced Allen to lie said they found a piece of iron under Lee’s body, according to a report by the SNCC. The coroner’s jury exonerated Hurst the next day.
However, Allen was “uncomfortable” with the lie he told. “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. Allen decided to tell the truth at the grand jury hearing that would examine the coroner jury’s findings. He knew that he was about to risk his life by implicating a powerful White man in a murder of a Black man so he asked for protection from federal authorities, but none was provided.
A document from FBI files cited by CBS News says, “Allen changed his story” and “expressed fear that he might be killed”. SNCC organizer Moses even made arrangements for Allen to meet with Justice Department officials, but since Allen was denied protection, he decided not to testify. Still, officials in Liberty got to know that Allen was willing to testify. And that began years of harassment of Allen by authorities and White residents.
Reports said local White residents stopped doing business with his logging company. Deputy sheriff Daniel Jones, whose father was a Ku Klux Klan leader, harassed and repeatedly arrested Allen on trumped-up charges, and on one occasion, he beat Allen outside his home. Hank Allen recently recounted to CBS News what happened that night Jones beat his father.
“…He had handcuffed him, told him he was under arrest. So Daddy asked for his hat. Told Daddy, ‘No, you can’t go get your hat.’ Daddy said, ‘Well, my son is on the porch, can he bring me my hat?’ He drawed back, he took a flashlight, and he struck my daddy, and broke his jawbone. Handcuffed,” Hank Allen said.
His father Allen filed complaints and testified before a federal grand jury in relation to the monstrous treatments meted out to him by Jones, however, his claims were dismissed. And the harassment continued.
“They [the police] have someone out to my house ‘watching’ me all the time,” Allen wrote in an affidavit he filed in 1962 highlighting some of the incidents. He pleaded for help, asking that “this matter… be investigated at once because if not, this kind of intimidation will continue.”
But nothing was done about his situation. At a point, Allen wanted to leave Liberty and go to work in another state but he couldn’t because of outstanding debts and the fact that his mother was sick. Sadly, his mom passed away. He began plans to leave Liberty after her demise.
On January 31, 1964, the night before he was due to leave, he was killed. Allen was ambushed after getting out of his truck to open the cattle gate that led to his property. His son, Hank Allen, found his dead body.
“I didn’t know why he would park the truck in the middle of the driveway and leave it like that. And I climbed up in the truck. The headlights was real dim. And when I went to step down out the truck, I stepped on something. And that’s when I stepped on my daddy’s hand. He was lying up under the truck,” Hank Allen told CBS News.
After Allen’s murder, Jones, who had harassed and threatened Allen’s life on several occasions, was made the lead investigator of the case. “He [Jones] told my mom that if Louis had just shut his mouth, that he wouldn’t be layin’ there on the ground. He wouldn’t be dead,” Hank Allen said.
Allen’s murder remains unsolved today. Jones was the main suspect but he denied being behind the murder. In 2011, he told CBS News that he “wasn’t involved in it”.
Last year, the family of Allen learned that he was sold for $20 while he was a child in 1926, per research conducted by Peonage Detective Dr. Antoinette Harrell. A respected historian and researcher, Harrell found a newspaper article that showed that Allen and his family were forced into slavery during the 20th century. Allen and his parents and two siblings were kidnapped in Amite County, Mississippi, and sold to a farm in Fluker, Louisiana, for the sum of $20.