A Civil Rights Warrior Remembered

Barrington M. Salmon | 11/28/2012, 10:35 a.m.

Guyot Leaves a Void That Cannot Be Filled

Lawrence Guyot never encountered a fight he didn't relish and that willingness to put his body, ideals and life on the line is what those who knew him remember in the days since his death on Friday, Nov. 23.

Guyot, a renowned civil rights activist, died at his home in Mt. Rainier, Md., following a long illness. He is survived by wife Monica, two children, Lawrence III, Julie and four grandchildren.

The Mississippi native was one of the young foot soldiers - black and white - who fought to topple the centuries-old tradition of segregation and who faced down savage packs of white racists intent on maintaining the status quo.

"My best recollection is that I've known him since 1962 when I met him in Mississippi," said Ward 8 Council member and four-term D.C. Mayor Marion Barry - one of the students who heeded the call for freedom. We were revolutionaries in our own thinking who stayed in Mississippi until black people were empowered. Only three percent of the registered voters in Mississippi were black but blacks made up 42 percent of the population. Everything was segregated."

Barry, 76, said Guyot came to the District in the 1960s and worked on his mayoral campaign in the late '70s.

"A bunch of SNCC [Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee] people worked at the grassroots level," Barry recalled. "He worked in D.C. government but could not be contained by a 9-5 job. He worked for people at the city council and as an advisory neighborhood commissioner. He was an unsung hero. While a lot of people were all over TV, he was in the trenches."

Guyot became an integral part of the fabric of District politics and advocacy.

Denise Reed said she first met Guyot when she worked on Eleanor Holmes Norton's first congressional campaign in 1990.

"He was always a step ahead in everything. I can't tell the number of times he foretold something and a year later, I would say, 'He was right."' said Reed, a government employee. "When Tony Williams was chief financial officer, he said Williams was going to be our next mayor. A lot of times he would sit back and not say anything and when he talked, you got an earful. He was his own EF Hutton."

Reed recalled the long conversation she had with Guyot late last year when he regaled her and a friend following a PBS screening of "Freedom Riders."

"He talked a lot about his Civil Rights days," Reed said. "He touched on it when we met that night. It is a lesson to us all about oral history. I think what first comes to mind is he just wasn't afraid to speak his mind and he was always seeking to impart wisdom. He connected the past with [the present], so people would learn from it, gain strength from it, not forget and keep in mind the relevance of his experience.Whatever he said, I was always happy to hear."