Maceo Snipes was a brave United States Army veteran of World War II who was fatally shot on July 18, 1946, just hours after casting his vote in the Georgia Democratic primary.
Born on March 28, 1909, in Hancock County, Georgia, Maceo Snipes grew up in an era marked by racial segregation and discrimination. He was part of a generation of African-Americans who fought against injustice, both on the home front and abroad during World War II. Like many young African-American men at the time, Snipes enlisted in the United States Army, where he served his country with honor and distinction.
After returning from World War II, Snipes, like many other African-American veterans, was eager to exercise his right to vote in his home state of Georgia. However, in the post-war South, the Jim Crow laws enforced a strict segregationist regime, and voting rights were severely restricted for African-Americans. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which would provide more comprehensive protection, had not yet been enacted.
The Georgia of that time was a breeding ground for racial violence, with the KKK operating at the height of its influence. The group openly made threats of lynching against any black person who dared to cast a vote. Maceo Snipes, undeterred by these threats, decided to take a stand for his rights and the rights of others. He boldly took a stand by becoming the sole black individual to cast his vote in the election, undeterred by the dangers that loomed.
The day after he voted, four white men, believed to be KKK members, confronted Maceo Snipes outside his grandfather’s house. Edward Williamson and Lynwood Harvey, both World War II veterans, were later identified as two of the assailants. In a senseless act of violence, Williamson shot Snipes in the back, and the men left the scene, leaving him wounded and struggling for survival.
After the shooting, Snipes and his mother sought help, and they were assisted by Homer Chapman, the landowner where Snipes’ family lived and worked. Despite being rushed to the hospital in Butler, the medical staff delayed treatment for six hours, claiming they did not have any “black blood” for a transfusion. This delay further exacerbated Snipes’ injuries, contributing to his untimely death two days later.
After Snipes’ death, the coroner’s jury declared Williamson’s actions as justified, accepting his claim of self-defense against Snipes. Supposedly, Williamson and Harvey went to Snipes to confront him on his debt. Williamson said that Snipes had pulled out a knife, so he shot Snipes twice in the back.
Rumors subsequently spread throughout the community that anyone attending Snipes’ funeral would meet the dead man’s fate. The fear of retaliation and the prevailing climate of terror cast a dark shadow over the grieving community. In the face of this chilling intimidation, friends and family hesitated to pay their final respects to the fallen hero.
And so — in the dead of night — the funeral director of McDougald Funeral Home in Butler, joined by Snipes’ uncle Felix, conducted the burial ceremony for the deceased. Fully aware of the potential risks, they acted discreetly to protect both themselves and any mourners from the threats that loomed overhead.
Maceo Snipes was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in the cemetery, with the exact location remaining unknown to this day. It was not until 2007 that he received a proper and dignified empty casket burial, finally commemorating his sacrifice and service to his country.
Maceo Snipes’ untimely death, along with the numerous acts of racial violence endured by African Americans during that era, played a pivotal role in igniting the civil rights movement. These tragedies brought national attention to the pressing necessity for extensive voting rights reform, eventually culminating in President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law.
While the Voting Rights Act of 1965 marked a significant step forward in the battle for equal voting rights, it also serves as a somber reminder of the sacrifices made by individuals like Maceo Snipes.