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Henry Dee and Charles Moore Case

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James Ford Seale mugshot
Jack Seale KKK photograph


June 23, 2010

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Henry Dee and Charles Moore Case


One of the more disturbing moments in the civil rights struggle in the South came on July 12, 1964, the twenty-first day of the search for civil rights workers Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman in Mississippi.

By that time, more than 400 sailors had joined the FBI in searching Southeast Mississippi woods, rivers and swamps. On July 12, when the brutalized corpse of a man was discovered across the state in an offshoot of the Mississippi River on the Louisiana side, there was early conjecture that it was one of the civil rights workers.

The next day, a few miles south, the river yielded another body, also brutalized, raising the possibility that a second civil rights worker had been located.

Then came the shock: The bodies were two altogether different men, both black, who had been missing since early May in Meadville, Mississippi. With that news came the awful realization that a search of any river or swamp in South Mississippi might reveal the vile extremes to which the Ku Klux Klan would go to preserve white supremacy.

The three civil rights workers would be found buried on the 44th day; they would be memorialized in movies, music and every history of civil rights. But what of the other two men, identified as Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore?

It took more than 40 years for the story hidden behind the murders of Dee, a 19-year-old sawmill worker, and Moore, a 20-year old college student, to be discovered and made public. When Klansman and former police officer James Ford Seale was finally arrested in connection with their murder in 2007, it was only because journalists, particularly filmmaker David Ridgen of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., investigated the case and dug out the incriminating information.

After Dee and Moore’s bodies surfaced in 1964, the FBI conducted a substantial investigation. The agents learned that several Klansmen had picked up the two men hitchhiking and taken them deep inside Homochitto National Forest 25 miles from Natchez. While Seale held a gun on the young men and interrogated them, other Klansmen beat them with whip-like bean poles and tree limbs until, gashed and bloodied, they were clinging to life.

Some Klansmen left while others, including Seale's brother, Jack, stuffed Dee and Moore into the trunk of a car, then drove them into Louisiana. There, the Seale brothers and another Klansman chained Dee and Moore to an engine block and train rails, then threw them into an oxbow lake formed by the Mississippi River. They were still alive.

In 2005, Ridgen and Charles Moore’s brother, Thomas Moore, drove to Mississippi with a van, video-camera equipment and a trove of unredacted records from various law enforcement agencies, including the FBI. Their pursuit would become an award-winning television documentary, Mississippi Cold Case.

When Ridgen and Moore arrived in Mississippi, the prevailing wisdom was that both the Seale brothers had died. But they found James Ford Seale very much alive. They also found Charles Marcus Edwards, who had participated in the abduction and beating. Although he was in the group that left Homochitto and never saw Seale and the other Klansman throw Dee and Moore in the river, Edwards later overheard Seale discussing the details of how they finished off the young men.

When Ridgen arrived with his camera, Seale and Edwards displayed raw hostility toward the filmmaker and Thomas Moore. Both had lived with their secret for more than four decades and had lied to FBI and congressional investigators from the beginning. Ridgen’s camera also was rolling when the U.S. Attorney pledged to prosecute the case if he could get the evidence.

Ridgen and Moore responded. They found archival video that helped prosecutors establish federal jurisdiction. They discovered the only photographs known to exist of Dee dead (from his autopsy) or alive. They produced a racist letter Seale wrote days after the attack. And they found a former FBI agent who had heard Seale make self-incriminating remarks in 1964. Ridgen’s film was shown to the jury during the trial.

When federal prosecutors came offering Edwards immunity if he would testify against Seale, Edwards did so, first to a grand jury, then at trial.

Edwards testified that he was the one who had identified Dee as a target because “he fit the profile of a Black Panther. He wore a black bandana on his head all the time. It seemed to me that would be the profile of a Black Panther.” Neither Dee nor Moore had had any involvement in civil rights activism.

After he wrapped up his trial testimony and the jury was out of the courtroom, Edwards asked the federal judge for permission to say something else. “I want to speak to the families of Mr. Moore and Mr. Dee,” he said.

“I can’t undo what was done 40 years ago, and I’m sorry for that,” he continued. “And I ask you for your forgiveness for my part in that crime. That’s exactly what I wanted to say to you.”

The jury convicted Seale. Still unresolved is why it took prosecutors—federal or state—more than four decades to bring charges, and what official pressure was brought on them to ignore the case.

Thomas Moore later met Edwards and forgave him. In a powerful scene Ridgen captured on video, Edwards apologized again.

Moore responded, “I believe in the same God that you believe in. In the 18th chapter of Matthew, Peter asks, ‘How many times should you forgive your brother?’ And he answered, I will forgive seven times. But Jesus Christ said, ‘No, not only seven times…’”

Edwards spontaneously joined Moore in finishing the story: “…but seventy times seven."

They shook hands. “So you are forgiven,” Moore said.

“I appreciate it,” Edwards replied. “God bless you.”

“God bless you too, brother.”