Lawrence Guyot, a leader in the civil rights movement, lawyer and community… (Nikki Kahn/The Washington…)
Lawrence Guyot, a leader in the civil rights movement, lawyer and community activist who fought to empower the poor and disenfranchised from his native Mississippi to the District, died Nov. 23 at his home in Mount Rainier. He was 73.
He had a heart ailment, his daughter, Julie Guyot-Diangone said.
As a civil rights activist in Mississippi in the 1960s, Mr. Guyot (pronounced GHEE-ott) endured arrests and beatings as he fought for voting rights and political representation for African Americans. He showed courage by standing up against authorities who had beaten and, in some cases, killed civil rights workers.
Mr. Guyot began working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1962 and became director of the 1964 Freedom Summer Project in Hattiesburg, Miss. He was the founding chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which sought to include African Americans among the Democratic Party’s delegates to the national convention.
In one of the bloodiest chapters of the civil rights movement in Mississippi, Mr. Guyot and others, including Fannie Lou Hamer, were arrested by law enforcement officials in 1963. They were severely beaten in a Winona, Miss., jail.
In testimony after the beating, Mr. Guyot said he had gashes on his head, was bleeding from his nose and mouth, and was bruised from his chest to his lower legs. Later, he recalled in a 2007 interview with The Washington Post, he was taken from his cell and shown to a group of white men gathered behind the jail.
“Now you know what he looks like,” he said the jailer told the crowd. “You can take care of him whenever you find him.”
The door to his jail cell was left unlocked, but Mr. Guyot knew that if he attempted to escape, he would probably be killed.
Dorie Ladner, a D.C. resident who was a civil rights activist in Mississippi at the time, saw Mr. Guyot soon after he, Hamer and others had been released from jail.
“His face looked like a piece of raw steak,” Ladner said. “He was convinced that they were going to kill him, but Medgar Evers had been killed that night, and they let him and four women go.”
Eleanor Holmes Norton, the D.C. delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, first met Mr. Guyot in Mississippi within days of the beatings in Winona.
“Because of Larry Guyot, I understood what it meant to live with terror and to walk straight into it,” Norton told The Post in 2007.
On Friday, she called Mr. 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 1964, Mr. Guyot helped lead a demonstration by members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, challenging the credentials of the all-white state delegation. Their challenge was rejected, but Hamer spoke before a national television audience at the convention, drawing attention to the plight of black Mississippi residents.
By 1968, Mr. Guyot had full credentials to the national convention as a member of the Mississippi delegation.
Lawrence Thomas Guyot Jr. was born July 17, 1939, in Pass Christian, Miss. He graduated in 1963 from Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Miss., with a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry.
He was a college student when he began working for civil rights. He graduated from Rutgers University law school in New Jersey in 1971 and moved to Washington, where he worked as a legal counsel for various city agencies.
He became a neighborhood advisory commissioner and was an informal adviser to his fellow Mississippi native, Marion Barry, a former mayor and current D.C. Council member.
“When he came to Washington he continued his revolutionary zeal,” Barry said Friday. “He was always busy working for the people.”
Until his retirement seven years ago, Mr. Guyot was a program monitor for the D.C. Department of Human Services’ Office of Early Childhood Development.
Survivors include his wife of 47 years, Monica Klein Guyot of Mount Rainier; and two children, Julie Guyot-Diangone of the District and Lawrence Guyot III of La Paz, Bolivia; and four grandchildren.
Among Mr. Guyot’s later battles, he advocated for redevelopment of housing owned by Howard University in the LeDroit Park neighborhood, where he lived for many years. He worked to have the civil rights documentary “Eyes on the Prize” — for which he had been interviewed — re-released after its initial 1990 telecast.
From the 1990s until the mid-2000s, Mr. Guyot often appeared as a commentator on Fox News, defending the legacy of the civil rights movement in animated discussions with well-known hosts Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity.
“It is still a struggle,” Mr. Guyot told The Post in 2005. “Getting people organized to bring about political change is as necessary today as it was in 1955.”