Civil Rights Icon Dies

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

Ladner said Guyot paid an awful price for his fight for freedom and equality.

"He was in Parchment Prison at least two times that I know of," she said. "In Greenwood, he looked like one of the Somali refugees. He'd lost 100 pounds and had his head shaved. They turned on the heat at night, tortured them. Once, they had to jump out of a window in Greenwood. I often joked with him about how he got out the window because he was always robust, but he said 'you gotta do what you gotta do...'"

In 1962, Guyot began work with SNCC and two years later was named director of the Freedom Summer Project in Hattiesburg, Miss. He was also the founding chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which sought to include African Americans in the Democratic Party's Mississippi delegation.

"He became the chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Partyand went to Atlantic City in 1964 and challenged the seating of an all-white delegation. We had taken Miss Hamer from the cotton fields to Atlantic City."

When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1965, Ladner said she, Guyot and other Civil Rights pioneers had already been in the trenches fighting for these rights for years. And in later years, she said, Guyot always expressed concern that the act was constantly under threat.

Guyot said as much last year after watching PBS' screening of 'Freedom Riders' at the Newseum with several hundred viewers.

After the show, at a watering hole in downtown Washington, Guyot was his usual boisterous, funny self as he explained in detail the ways that blacks and their allies needed to protect this cherished right.

He also recounted his days as a soldier on the forefront of the civil rights struggle, tying those struggles with D.C.'s statehood push and the scandals embroiling council members.

"I find this absolutely astounding," Guyot said during an interview earlier this year. "If you're going to do a criminal investigation, it's good to start with a crime that has been committed. This is not a serious investigation; its intent is to inhibit this government's operations," Guyot said about the federal investigation into businessman Jeffrey Thompson's involvement in political donations to elected officials. "It is an issue framed as if it's only about purity. We should have as much concern for having a functioning government as a pure government."

"I don't want this government stymied by discussions of who's the purest in the group. When I go to the polls, I go to elect politicians, not saints."

Ladner said Guyot was an unabashed supporter of President Barack Obama. She said he went to North Carolina and elsewhere in 2008 to campaign for him and although he was unable to travel this year, he worked the phones. She and others who knew Guyot said he was a die-hard Democrat and predicted Obama's victory on Nov. 6.

Local journalist Adrienne Washington said she is stunned by her friend's passing.

"He said he was the president of my fan club," said the former Washington Times columnist and writer. "He would come and lecture in my classes and talked a lot about the Civil Rights movement. He always repeated the quote about race relations: there was the USA, the South and then there was Mississippi."

"He registered Fannie Lou Hamer to vote. He was beaten almost half to death for registering people to vote and he was very involved in the Mississippi Teaching Project - making civil rights relevant to children today."

"It used to bother me that people thought he was stuck in the'60s but they didn't understand him. It was always a springboard to tie it to current issues. And he wasn't as predictable as you would think. He supported Fenty. He never got his due. He should be up there with Hamer, [Ella] Baker and King. There's a bunch of unsung heroes and soldiers. He was at the top of that list. He really cared about D.C. and poor people. He wore those people out at the city council."

WI Staff Writer James Wright contributed to this story.