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Civil Rights Icon Dies

11/25/2012, 12:25 a.m.

For the many years he lived in the District of Columbia, Lawrence Guyot could be counted on to be at the forefront of any issue that involved equality, justice and fair play.

The tall, husky, barrel-chested Mississippi native marched, agitated, confronted, and instigated for change. He was a common presence at D.C. Council meetings, challenging those he felt ignored or overlookedthe needs of the poor and the vulnerable. And he served as an advisory neighborhood commissioner seeking to change from the inside as well as outside.

On Friday, Nov. 23, Guyot's large heart, that embraced every righteous cause, was stilled. He died at age 73 after a long illness.

"I regard him as one of the real unsung heroes of the Civil Rights movement," said Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who had known her friend, community activist and lawyer for 50 years. "Most of those who were as badly beaten as him didn't live to tell it much less live a life of struggle. He was much respected for carrying on many different struggles in this town. He didn't confine himself. He knew injustice when he saw it because he had seen it at its worst."

Norton, 75, said she first met Guyot when he, famed Civil Rights Campaigner Fannie Lou Hamer and 14-year-old June Johnson were imprisoned in Winona, Miss., for registering black people to vote at a time when racist elements in the state and other parts of the South resorted to murder, intimidation and violence to ensure that blacks there would never have the opportunity to exercise their constitutional rights.

"I first met him when I was a law student in Mississippi, went to Greenwood, Miss., and was told that he'd been put in jail in Winona. I went there to try to get him out of jail," Norton recalled. "They let him out of jail to allow him to be beaten by the White Citizens' Councils. When you meet someone under those circumstances, you form a lasting bond. At that time there was almost no Civil Rights movement in Mississippi. It had spread throughout the South and the last place to go was Mississippi."

"There was terrorist violence for anyone who threatened the regime - from the courts to the police to all parts of the community."

Local political consultant, political analyst and commentator Chuck Thies said Guyot was a unique man and activist.

"He is an irreplaceable force in the District. I am saddened by his death," said Thies, 47. "He was a civil rights warrior who used his background in D.C. politics. Lawrence was different from the civil rights leaders of that era who are still around today. He was jailed and beaten and risked his life for the cause of civil rights. Don't get me wrong, people like Eleanor Holmes Norton, Marion Barry and Ivanhoe Donaldson were courageous, but Lawrence did not use his civil rights background as a way for upward mobility."

Thies detailed just a small snapshot of Guyot's activities in the city.