Any discussion of the Civil Rights Movement usually boils down to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks for too many Americans. However, there were countless other freedom fighters such as Lawrence Guyot who are lucky to get even a footnote.
Guyot, a dedicated activist and charter member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, died late last week at his home in Rainier, Md. He was 73.
According to his daughter Julie Guyot-Diangone, her father had a history of heart problems and was a diabetic. Regardless, none of these ailments prevented Guyot from joining his comrades as they sought to register voters in the South, especially in the danger-ridden backwaters of Mississippi.
Anyone who has seen segments of “Eyes on the Prize” will recall Guyot’s comments about those days when he was a volunteer and leader of the young people who risked their lives as members of Freedom Summer in 1964.
From the ramparts of this struggle, Guyot went on to chair the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, an organization perhaps best remembered by Fannie Lou Hamer’s defiance when they sought to unseat their state’s delegation at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City.
Basically, Guyot was a laidback, thoughtful organizer, leaving a lot of the more outspoken efforts to Hamer and Dave Dennis. But his quiet resolve could never be mistaken for contentment with Jim Crow, and the beatings he endured are indications of his willingness to never shirk in the face of brutal reaction from white segregationists.
This practice was part of Guyot’s demeanor right to the end of his days. Even during President Barack Obama’s successful campaigns, he was among those still actively engaged in the movement to beat back the voter suppression aims of right-wing Republicans and others.
“He was a civil rights field worker right up to the end,” said his daughter.
Defiant of laws seeking to abrogate his rights as a citizen, Guyot challenged the rigors of Jim Crow by marrying the white woman he loved when such a union was illegal in many states.
Born in Pass Christian, Miss., on July 17, 1939, Guyot became active in civil rights while attending Tougaloo College in Mississippi, graduating in 1963. Guyot received a law degree in 1971 from Rutgers University then moved to Washington, where he worked to elect fellow Mississippian and civil rights activist Marion Barry as mayor in 1978.
“Because of Larry Guyot,” D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton told the Washington Post in 2007, “I understood what it meant to live with terror and to walk straight into it.”
Walking into terror was something Guyot did fearlessly and repeatedly, and for that alone, he has earned himself a special place among civil rights icons in the fight for justice and equality.