Saturday, February 03, 2007
From The New York Times…
Push to Resolve Fading Killings of Rights Era
By SHAILA DEWAN
ATLANTA — For every infamous killing that tore at the South in the 1950s and ‘60s, there were many more that were barely noted, much less investigated.
Virtually all such cases gained momentum only when the victims of the past found voices in the present, like those that helped arrest a 71-year-old man last month in connection with the Klan killings of two black teenagers in Mississippi in 1964. Rather than police officials, it has often been journalists and filmmakers who have combed through documents and tracked down witnesses, fueling some 15 years of successful prosecutions.
Only now, with time running out because potential witnesses and suspects are dying off, have law enforcement officials begun to take a systematic approach to unsolved civil rights crimes. The Federal Bureau of Investigation recently canvassed its field offices for the first time, compiling a list of 51 victims in 39 cases, most of which were never investigated by the bureau.
The list was prompted not by the string of convictions, but by a letter about the lynching of two black couples at the Moore’s Ford Bridge, east of Atlanta, in 1946, said Chip Burrus, the assistant director of the F.B.I.’s criminal investigative division.
“When I read the letter, I said, ‘I’ve never heard of Moore’s Ford. What is this about?’” Mr. Burrus said. “There’ve got to be more of these things.”
That a single letter prodded the F.B.I. to action illustrates how slender are the time-brittled fibers that knit together the outcome in these fading crimes.
[Click on the essay title above to read the full story.]