158 A BICENTENNIAL HISTORY OF MISSISSIPPI VERNON F. DAHMER Vernon Ferdinand Dahmer attempted to register to vote in the 1940s, filed lawsuits, founded NAACP chapters, and befriended Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee volunteers in the 1950s. Dahmer tried to make it easier for African Americans to register and vote before his home was attacked by the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan on January 10, 1966. The Voting Rights Act had only been signed 157 days earlier, and the Klan group was keeping Dahmer under close watch and made him a frequent topic of discussion. The Dahmer family woke to the sound of gunfire and jugs of gas, which ignited his home, grocery store, and car. Dahmer defended his home while his family escaped. He later died of smoke inhalation and severe lung damage at age fifty-seven. Thirteen men were tried and four were convicted for Dahmer’s murder. Twenty-five years later, Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, who was freed in the first trial, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1998. PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE VERNON DAHMER FAMILY The Piney Woods on average was more sparsely populated and contained a lower percentage of slaves than other regions of the state in 1860.While most communities in the antebellum period relied on river access to thrive, a handful did not. Brookhaven, founded in 1818 by Samuel Jayne, was a sleepy hamlet for much of the antebellum period. In the 1850s, Brookhaven became one of the ten-mile stops on the New Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern Railroad. The railroad depot was a distance away from the old town, and the residents moved to the new site from “Old Brook.” By March 1857 the railroad was complete, and Brookhaven acquired regular train service to the state capital at Jackson and the regional metropolis of New Orleans. Just one year later, the Whitworth College for Women, operated under the auspices of the Mississippi Methodist Conference, opened in the town. The Reverend Milton J. Whitworth of Brookhaven agreed to provide land and a building for the school and teamed with the Reverend Henry J. Harris to found the school. The college would operate as Whitworth College from 1859 to 1928 and in a variety of other capacities thereafter. Whitworth College was the first female college for women in the state of Mississippi. From the settlement of the territory until 1860, the population of the Piney Woods grew slowly. The poor soil of the region and a land rush in the area above the Choctaw Cession Line combined to limit settlement. As early residents soon learned, the sandy, thin soil of the Pine Barrens offered few opportunities for large-scale intensive crop-based agriculture. Instead, many residents turned to herding cattle, swine, or sheep as a means for profit. Although some entrepreneurs turned to activities that utilized the abundant resources of the pine forest, such as turpentining, lumbering, or pitch production, there is no doubt the Piney Woods was a region based on agriculture in the antebellum period. In the census of 1850, 48 percent of white inhabitants in Greene County listed their occupation as farmer. This percentage is identical to the statewide average of 48 percent who listed their occupation as farmer, but the number of farm laborers in Greene County was well above the state average. Farm laborers made up another 36 percent of the population, bringing the total of free farm workers to 84 percent of the total number with a listed occupation. In addition to the white population who toiled in some form of agriculture, the census recorded 638 slaves in Greene County in 1850, approximately 32 percent of the county’s 2,008 residents. Only 12 percent of Greene County male white residents owned slaves. Of these ninety-two individuals who owned slaves in Greene County in 1850, 64 percent owned five or fewer slaves, 29 percent owned six to twenty slaves, and only 7 percent owned twenty