Reporter Ben Greenberg talks to the hosts of The Takeaway, a national online news program, about a 2007 federal initiative to investigate and solve "cold case" murders from the civil rights era, and why so few cases are being pursued.
Listen to the program:
Attorney General Eric Holder is circulating in Congress his second report on the Justice Department's efforts to solve 109 murder cases in the South during the 1950s and '60s that appear to have been racially motivated. What began as a Justice Department initiative in 2006 to investigate cold cases became a mandate when the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act became law in 2008.
As far as I knew, none of the children of Clifton Walker had ever been contacted by FBI agents regarding the February 28, 1964 racial killing of their father, near Woodville, MS. Still, I thought I should confirm this, so a few nights ago I gave a call to Walker's second daughter Catherine and asked her if her family has heard from the FBI.
"I wish we had, no," Catherine answered.
Settlement Reached in Civil Suit Charging Franklin County, MS Role in 1964 KKK Murders
On Monday, June 21, Franklin County, Mississippi agreed to a settlement in an historic civil suit with the families of Charles Moore and Henry Dee, two 19-year-old Black men who were kidnapped, tortured and murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan on May 2, 1964.
The Justice Department is considering a request to test unidentified fingerprints from the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Researchers of the April 4, 1968, assassination of King have suggested that unidentified fingerprints from the crime scene and elsewhere be run through the FBI’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System, which holds the fingerprints of more than 55 million people.
Over the past 20 years, every unsolved civil rights murder case that has been reopened and successfully prosecuted in the South was the direct result of an investigation initiated by a journalist.
So the FBI’s decision to close, without prosecution or further disclosure, all but a few of the 108 unsolved murder cases it began re-examining three years ago, only highlights the vital need for investigative reporting that can find the truth, tell the stories and fill in the gaps in our nation’s history.
Stanley Nelson, editor of The Concordia Sentinel in Louisiana, deserves a tremendous amount of praise for continuing to shed light on the killings and violence carried out by the Ku Klux Klan in the Delta along the Mississippi River. (He is a fellow member of The Civil Rights Cold Cases Unit, which is exposing what happened in these unpunished killings from the civil rights era.)
Last weekend, on February 6, Catherine Walker and I were emailing back and forth about our plans to interview people familiar with the unsolved civil rights murder of her father Clifton Walker 46 years ago. Around mid-afternoon we had a breakthrough; Catherine wrote to tell me about her conversation with the son of a possible eyewitness to the planning of the murder:
I explained to him how important today is: “DADDY’S birthday” How I need his Dad’s # to speak with him to move forward with the Justice quest. He understood.
Over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend some attention turned to US Senator John Kerry's (D-MA) renewed effort to open the FBI records of Dr. King. Civil Rights Cold Case reporter Jerry Mitchell reported:
U.S. Sen. John Kerry plans to introduce legislation next week that would pave the way for the release of thousands of FBI documents on the life and death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
In October, I was in Mississippi again, following leads in my investigation of the 1964 murder of Clifton Walker, a black man from Woodville, MS.
Driving home from the swing shift at the International Paper plant in Natchez, MS, Walker was ambushed by Klansmen, who stopped his car on a deserted road and blew his face off with shotguns in the dark of night. He never made it home to his wife and five children. He was 37 years old.