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Friday, November 30, 2012

Civil Rights Activist Lawrence Guyot Spent A Lifetime Fighting For Voters’ Rights

Lawrence Guyot, a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee member in Mississippi during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s passed away last week at 73. (AP/Rogelio V. Solis)

Lawrence Guyot, a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee member in Mississippi during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s passed away last week at 73. (AP/Rogelio V. Solis)

Civil Rights activist Lawrence Guyot died last Thursday at the age of 73.

In the 1960s, Guyot helped organize student volunteers to register black voters in Mississippi. It was during that time that he met a young white student named Michael Schwerner, who was getting ready to go to Mississippi. Schwerner wanted to know if it would be safe for him. Guyot said it would, and was forever haunted by that advice, when Schwerner was later murdered.

Guyot and fellow activist Fannie Lou Hamer led an effort at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City to replace Mississippi’s all-white delegation with an integrated one. It came during a time when African American rights were severely limited.

“We must remember, in 1964 a person could travel from Mississippi to Atlantic City and never find a public bathroom they could use, never find a hotel where they could register, never find a restaurant that would seat them,” he said.

Though Hamer and Guyot failed to get an integrated Mississippi delegation in 1964, they both were official delegates to the 1968 Democratic Convention.

Lawrence Guyot would go on to earn a law degree from Rutgers University, then  moved to Washington, D.C., where he advised mayors. In 2008, he was a strong supporter of then-candidate Barack Obama.

To the end of his life, Guyot believed in the importance of the vote.

“I was in the fight for 18-year-olds to vote. I was in the fight to stop the war in Vietnam, and the one thing I’ve learned in all of this, is that the beautiful thing about America is that there’s nothing that can’t be done in the political arena. And there’s nothing that will be done in America that’s not political,” Guyot said.

As his health was deteriorating, Guyot made sure to vote early this year to ensure his final ballot would count.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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