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Tracking down racist killers from the 50s, 60s and 70s

ASK THIS | August 15, 2005

John Britton says that while a resolution by Senators apologizing for past inaction made headlines, he’d like to see more substantive measures

By John Britton



Q. As it is doing with respect to war criminals, is the United States government prepared to locate and bring to justice – under civil rights statutes, if necessary – suspects involved in violent assaults and murders in southern states where law enforcement authorities failed to hold anyone accountable for the deaths of dozens of black and white Americans during the activist civil rights era of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s?


Q. If prosecutorial authority appears lacking for such cases, will any Senator and/or Representative introduce legislation creating a special investigative unit in the Justice Department – modeled after the current war criminal-hunting Office of Special Investigations – mandated solely to track down and bring charges against vigilantes, groups or individuals, who maimed and/or killed black Americans exercising their rights as citizens? 


Q. Or, since the current special investigations office has achieved notable success at tracking down and deporting war criminals, will the Congress expand that office’s authority to include tracking down and identifying domestic terrorists who destroyed activists of the civil rights movement?


A majority of U.S. Senators made headlines recently when they signed a resolution of apology for the Senate’s failure to enact anti-lynching legislation when that form of domestic terrorism was rampant in the United States, particularly in the South. The symbolic gesture perhaps resonated only mildly among African Americans, many of whom may have wondered whether legislators are prepared to take really substantive action to atone for the missed opportunities the senators decried.


There have been successful prosecutions of individuals involved in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing and the Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner murders, and the Emmett Till murder case has been reopened. But all that begs another question: Why is there no attempt, in this more enlightened era to track down the law enforcement authorities and others known to have been deeply involved in the victims’ deaths? Who will go after once clearly identifiable suspects that southern local law enforcement and the FBI consciously failed to prosecute? 


The list of civil rights deaths (click here) is long. Some have been solved; many have not. Some local communities on their own have recently engaged in truth and reconciliation exercises, seeking to atone for the wrongdoing of their ancestors. While no demand is before the federal government to organize and operate a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the order of one that brought catharsis to some black South Africans, is it too much to expect for the United States government to acknowledge in a substantive way the wrong done to its citizens and to do for them what it is engaged in doing for aggrieved citizens of the world?   


Web sites of interest for background


Possible sources for comment

  • U. S. Senator George Allen (R – Va.), co-author of the apology resolution
  • U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D – La.), co-author of the apology resolution
  • U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D – Ga.), who knew many of the dead and wounded
  • Julian Bond, Chairman, NAACP
  • The Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., CEO, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition
  • U. S. Rep. Melvin Watt (D – N.C.), Chairman, Congressional Black Caucus
  • Eli M. Rosenbaum, Director, Office of Special Investigations, Criminal Division, Justice Department
  • Alberto Gonzales, Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice

Apology due to Native Americans
Posted by Rev. James Riddle
10/13/2009, 04:33 AM

Although the government owes many apologies to the enslavement of the Africans, their persecution and murders, I think one group has been overlooked. The Native American. Although it is far too long ago to prosecute the injustices from and by individuals, as it will be soon for murderers of the Blacks that suffered under the so called superior white people that invaded our lands, raped our women, killed our children , intentionally spread disease to us with the blankets, clothes, food they gave to us while they already had us rounded up like chattel. The US government declared a full scale war on men, women, children and the elderly with no quarter given. At least a Black man, woman or child had worth to them. Indians were considered too savage to enslave with any security of the owner’s lives, and they were correct, so they disposed of us at will. Yes, the government was so kind to allow us to set up casinos on land they stole from our and other tribes. That is no official apology. All that has done is created people depending on the casino dollar, creating nothing or little for themselves. Few businesses on a reservation that don’t have a white person backing them or outright owning it. The government seems to think if a person has some color to their skin, they aren’t capable of taking care of themselves and need to be told what to do, and who to vote for or they with withhold the things they have caused you to rely on. I don’t want their damn money for reparations. In 20 years that dollar won’t be worth as much as a 6 by 6 piece of toilet paper. They are the only people I’ve seen that will sabotage their whole infrastructure, their whole way of life, just to make a quick and brief dollar. While there were still lynching’s of Blacks as recent as the 1960’s they were still relocating Native Americans in the 1940’s from their families and homelands in the south. As far as lynching’s they were very few. We were on reservations and very tight. So when there were some white no goods hanging around we all knew and were ready. Sometimes they had an option to leave town, sometimes they didn’t. It all depended on their sincerity and assurances they wouldn‘t be back to cause trouble. Even now, in the south, a Black person, Asian or Mexican can get work on someone’s land and in their house. Not for a Native American. If you can’t pass for something other, you won’t even get a chance.

Associated Press
A new Justice Department office would investigate and prosecute "cold case" murders from the civil rights era, under a measure approved by the Senate in September, 2005.

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