Civil rights leader Lawrence Guyot dies

Severely beaten in the 1960s, Lawrence Guyot continued to advance voting rights issues the rest of his life.

WASHINGTON — Lawrence Guyot, a civil rights leader who survived jailhouse beatings in the Deep South in the 1960s and went on to encourage generations to get involved in various causes, died late Thursday or early Friday outside Washington, D.C. at the age of 73.

His daughter Julie Guyot-Diangone said late Saturday that Guyot died at home in Mount Rainier, Md. She said he'd had a history of heart problems and suffered from diabetes.

A Mississippi native, Guyot worked for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and served as director of the 1964 Freedom Summer Project, which brought thousands of young people to the state to register blacks to vote despite a history of violence and intimidation by authorities. He also chaired the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which sought to have blacks included among the state's delegates to the 1964 Democratic National Convention. The bid was rejected, but another civil rights activist, Fannie Lou Hamer, addressed the convention during a nationally televised appearance.

Guyot was severely beaten several times, including while at the notorious Mississippi State Penitentiary known as Parchman Farm, in the early 1960s. He continued to speak out on voting rights issues until his death, including encouraging people to vote for President Barack Obama.

"He was a civil rights field worker right up to the end," Guyot-Diangone said.

She said she recently saw him on a shuttle bus encouraging people to register to vote and asking about their political views. She said he was an early backer of gay marriage, noting that when he married a white woman, interracial marriage was illegal in some states. He met his wife Monica while they both worked for racial equality.

"He followed justice," his daughter said. "He followed what was consistent with his values, not what was fashionable. He just pushed people along with him."

Susan Glisson, executive director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi, called Guyot "a towering figure, a real warrior for freedom and justice."

"He loved to mentor young people. That's how I met him," she said.

When she attended Ole Miss, students there wanted to learn from the civil rights activists. She had a mailing list of those who had attended a Freedom Summer reunion in 1994; Guyot was one of two who answered.

"He said any time Mississippi young people called, he would answer," Glisson said.

"He was very opinionated," she added. "But always — he always backed up his opinions with detailed facts. He always pushed you to think more deeply and to be more strategic. It could be long days of debate about the way forward. But once the path was set, there was nobody more committed to the path."

Glisson said Guyot's efforts helped lay the groundwork for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which, she said, "changed the political landscape in the South."

"Mississippi has more black elected officials than any other state in the country, and that's a direct tribute to his work," she said.

Lawrence Thomas Guyot, Jr., was born in Pass Christian, Miss., on July 17, 1939. He became active in civil rights while attending Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Miss., from which he graduated in 1963. Guyot received a law degree in 1971 from Rutgers University, and then moved to Washington, where he worked for the election of fellow Mississippian and civil rights activist Marion Barry as mayor in 1978.

"When he came to Washington, he continued his revolutionary zeal," Barry told The Washington Post on Friday. "He was always busy working for the people."

Guyot worked for the District of Columbia government in various capacities and as a neighborhood advisory commissioner.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton told The Post in 2007 that she first met Guyot within days of his beating at a jail in Winona, Miss. "Because of Larry Guyot, I understood what it meant to live with terror and to walk straight into it," she told the newspaper. On Friday, she called Guyot "an unsung hero" of the civil rights movement.

"Very few Mississippians were willing to risk their lives at that time," she said. "But Guyot did."

In recent months, his daughter said, he was concerned about what he felt were efforts by Republican officeholders to limit access to the polls and he focused intently on Obama's re-election. As his health was failing, he voted early because he wanted to make sure his vote was counted, he told the AFRO newspaper.

Guyot-Diangone said her father was elated by Obama's re-election, but she added, "I was wondering when Obama won, is Dad gonna go now."

In addition to his daughter, Guyot is survived by his wife of 47 years, Monica Guyot of Mount Ranier, Md.; a son, Lawrence Guyot III of La Paz, Bolivia; and four grandchildren.

Funeral services are pending.