Civil Rights – StoryCorps

“The Black Vote Matters:” How An Army Veteran Inspired A Teenage Martin Luther King, Jr.

Warning, the following story includes a description of racial violence.

In 1945, World War II US Army veteran Maceo Snipes, returned home to Taylor County, Georgia. He voted in the county’s primary in July of 1946, and the next day, he was murdered by a white mob.

The news of Snipes’ lynching — and the killing of four other African Americans — reached a teenage Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., then studying at Morehouse College. These murders inspired King to write a letter to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

A teenage Dr. King’s letter to the editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. MLK was a Morehouse College student inspired to speak out following Maceo Snipes’ lynching. Courtesy of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Raynita Snipes Johnson, Maceo Snipes’ great niece, only recently learned of her uncle’s story when she campaigned for Black voting rights in the 2016 presidential election.

Raynita Snipes Johnson at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The church was a destination for Martin Luther King, Jr. following a KKK bombing that killed four Black children in 1963. Photo courtesy of Raynita Snipes Johnson.

She sat down with her friend, Gene Robinson, to talk about her uncle’s contribution to the Civil Rights Movement.

Gene Robinson and Raynita Snipes Johnson at their StoryCorps Virtual recording on August 29, 2020.

 

Find out more about the effort to honor Maceo Snipes’ life at The Maceo Snipes 1946 Project.


Top Photo: United States Army veteran Maceo Snipes. He served in World War II, and was murdered shortly after returning home from service. Photo courtesy of Raynita Snipes Johnson.

This story was recorded in collaboration with the PBS series FRONTLINE as part of Un(re)solved— a major initiative documenting the federal effort to investigate more than 150 cold case murders dating back to the civil rights era. More such stories can be explored in an interactive documentary at Un(re)solved.

Originally aired January 14th, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition.