News 12 at 6 o'clock, April 1, 2009
MONROE, Ga.---Federal and state agencies are one step closer to solving the oldest civil rights hate crime in U.S. history. Agents are almost certain there are people living in Walton County, Georgia can help them solve the 1946 Moore's Ford Lynching murders.
Top officials from the FBI and GBI made a plea on Saturday in Monroe for the public's help. The biggest problem is getting people to open up about the most sensitive topic in Georgia.
As peaceful as it is at the bridge that connects Oconee and Walton counties, it is hard to believe it is the scene of one of the most horrific hate crimes in U.S.history. On July 25, 1946 - four African Americans were shot hundreds of times by a mob of white men. They were killed in broad daylight.
Their murders remain unsolved and no one was ever prosecuted.
But 63 years later - in nearby Monroe - there's a thunderous and passionate plea for justice; justice that could be right around the corner. At a rally with close to 200 people a special panel announced updates in the investigation. On hand were at least seven FBI and GBI agents. State and federal agents shared new details to the crowd - but refrained from discussing specifics.
It is widely believed in Monroe that at least five of people involved in the murders are still living. The agents revealed there have been tips and strong leads. But in this small town torn apart by racial tension - the most difficult task- is getting people to talk.
Someone you may not expect to be searching for answers in this case is Elwin Wilson. He's a former member of the Ku Klux Klan. Wilson recently apologized for beating up a young black man at a bus stop in Rock Hill, South Carolina back in 1961. That man was John Lewis - now a U.S. Congressman. Wilson says he wasn't taught to hate blacks.So why did he? He says he was part of the wrong crowd.
News 12 at 11 o'clock, April 1, 2009
MONROE, Ga. ---The mystery behind a 63 year-old unsolved civil rights case may soon come to light after federal and state agencies met on Saturday in the town of Monroe.
Investigators along with other community supporters are hoping to finally shut the book on this case. An unlikely supporter in all of this is a former Klansman from Rock Hill, SOUth Carolina named Elwin Wilson.
Elwin Wilson's story is unique because its a story of how a man filled with hate --changed himself. It's been a long journey for him but he tells us that shedding our old prejudices and beliefs "is" possible. He's hoping that the town of Monroe will also shed their prejudices and bring justice to these victims and closure for the families.
Back in 1961 - 24 year-old Elwin Wilson was part of the "in" crowd. It was a crowd he says did a lot of cruel and hateful things to blacks. He recalls the day when a young black man attempted to integrate the town's bus station waiting room. Wilson, along with his crowd of friends grabbed the man and beat him.
The man he attacked, John Lewis, would go on to be a U.S. Congressman and a civil rights legend. Fast forward 48 years later, Wilson publicly apologized to Rep. Lewis for what happened that day in Rock Hill. An apology he says was long overdue.
Today you can see the regret and remorse in his face and you can also hear the tremble in his words - as he shares details about some of mean-spirited actions of his past - things he says he's not proud of today.
That's why Wilson believes it is crucial for anyone with knowledge of the Moore's Ford murders to speak out. He says he knows first hand the burden of carrying such a heavy weight:
Breaking down the wall of silence in Walton County has not been easy. In fact, that's why a half a dozen federal and state agencies showed up on Saturday offering a plea for help.
Wilson travels to areas in Georgia and South Carolina along with Waymond Mundy, Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Moore's Ford Memorial. He wants to spread his message - that you can turn shame into salvation.
Wilson says that some of his old associates have called him to say that he's done the wrong thing by stepping forward about his past involvement in hate crimes. But he says that hasn't deterred him.
Several years ago, the GBI considered releasing to the public the investigative files in the case but after talking to the State Attorney General it was decided against it because there still is a chance of prosecution.