Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Reflecting on the Life of Lawrence Guyot

Civil Rights Legend Was a Recent HCWDC Program Panelist

By: Priya Dadlani

Lawrence Guyot, who endured violent beatings as a young civil rights worker during the early 1960’s fighting for black suffrage, died November 23 at his home in Mount Rainier, MD. Guyot 73, had long battled illness.

Lawrence Guyot, Image Credit: wamu.org
Born in Pass Christian, Mississippi on July 17, 1939, Lawrence Thomas Guyot Jr. grew up with his father who was a contractor. Guyot attended Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi. This historically black college had a few white faculty members but welcomed white students to attend. He graduated with a degree in chemistry and biology in 1963. While still in college he became concerned with human rights and equality so he joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and traveled around Mississippi drumming up support for the civil rights cause through meetings and conventions.

During his fight for black suffrage Guyot was defied, incarcerated and beaten as he led fellow members of SNCC and other  student volunteers from around the country in helping African Americans in Mississippi vote. He then gained publicity and pushed more blacks to fight for their suffrage when he began serving as chairman of the integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. This party was formed to replace the all-white state Democratic Party. Although it didn’t succeed in its primary goal, the party’s efforts paved the way for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The physical violence Guyot endured did not deter him or defeat him, and today he is known for his unwavering dedication to his cause. While incarcerated at the Mississippi penitentiary Parchman Farm, he was brutally beaten and went on a 17-day hunger strike during which he lost 100 pounds.  “It was a question of defiance,” Guyot said during an interview with NPR in 2011. “We were not going to let them have complete control over us.”
                Later in life, Guyot was pro same-sex marriage when it was illegal everywhere in the United States. Many times he reflected on the fact that he married a white woman when interracial marriage was illegal in some states, and he gave tremendously inspiring speeches on the meaning and the goal of the civil rights movement. In 2011, Guyot again lent his wisdom and experience to the public as a panelist for a 2011 Humanitini program on gentrification.

Although Lawrence Guyot has passed on, his perseverance and dedication to civil rights and human equality will never be forgotten. He has been, and will always be a true inspiration to people all over the world, fighting for a cause.  “There is nothing like having risked your life with people over something immensely important to you,” he said in 2004. “As Churchill said, there’s nothing more exhilarating than to have been shot at — and missed.” 

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