Special Assignment: Unsolved civil rights cases reopened

By: Melissa Tune Email
By: Melissa Tune Email

News 12 at 6 o'clock, November 26, 2008

AUGUSTA, Ga --- Between 1882 and 1930, more than 450 documented lynchings occurred in the state of Georgia. Georgia's toll of lynching victims was exceeded only by the state of Mississippi.
Many of the lynchings went unsolved. No one ever paid the price for the crimes and there was no closure for the victims' families but justice could be right around the corner because of a new law that went into effect in October 2008.

It is called the Emmitt Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act and it authorizes the FBI and GBI to re-investigate old cases and prosecute those still alive in cold civil rights murder cases.

"We all decided years ago that we should be pushing Congress to do something to focus on all these cases,"says Georgia Rep. Tyrone Brooks.

All the "pushing" by Brooks and others to include Rep. Joseph Lowery, led to a new civil rights act named after this 14-year old boy, Emmitt Till. A well known story, Till was brutally murdered in 1955 after whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. It was a serious crime for African-Americans back before the civil rights movement.

Till's case is still unsolved but in October new legislation was signed into law authorizing the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI to investigate long forgotten, racially motivated killings.

"The Emmitt Till Bill, symbolic because of how he was lynched and murdered at the age of 14 we thought that was the appropriate way to go,"adds Brooks.

"There are at least 100 unsolved, cold case civil rights cases, murders that the FBI has prioritized, " says Rich Rusk, Board Member of the Moore's Ford Memorial Committee.

At the top of the FBI list is the Moore's Ford Lynchings. Rich Rusk is quite familiar with the unsolved civil rights case. He is one of the board members of the Moore's Ford Memorial Committee located in Monroe, Georgia. The Moore's Ford Bridge in Walton County is where four African Americans were lynched back in 1946. To this day, the murders are still unsolved. According to an FBI report, the two couple's bodies were tied to tree just below a bridge that connects Oconee and Walton counties. It is the hope of both men that this new legislation will uncover the truth about their deaths and uncover who is responsible.

"If it turns out its too late for justice here at Moore's Ford we're confident that other communities will experience some justice thanks to the passage of the Till Bill,"says Rusk.

"We want to break the case, we want the killers prosecuted. This is a stain on our history, and a burden on our soul,"says Brooks.

Rep.Brooks has long been active in civil rights since his days at the SCLC. His personal mission, years before elected into the Georgia house -- working towards justice. He recalls visiting Monroe, Georgia for the first time - back in 1968 as a young civil rights volunteer with the SCLC. He distinctly remembers a conversation and looking at pictures with a Walton County Funeral Director at the time regarding the four slain African Americans.

Brooks believes solving the Moore's Ford case may now be possible thanks to the Till Act which dedicates 11.5 million dolllars a year for the next ten years to investigate any unsolved civil rights case prior to 1970. The cases targeted are murders in which suspects are thought to be alive.

Roger Malcolm, the man at the center of Moore's Ford was a World War II veteran. He had just returned from overseas when the lychings happened. An american flag draped his coffin at his funeral. President Truman was allegedly outraged that this horric act had happened to decorated soldier.

Ironicially - the Moore's Ford Lynchings took place on July 25, 1946 - the same day as Emmitt till's 5th birthday. It is often called the last public mass lynching in the United States.


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