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On the Trail of a Civil Rights-Era Cold Case

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On the Trail of a Civil Rights-Era Cold Case


On the Trail of a Civil Rights-Era Cold Case

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He was actually thought to be dead in recent years - James Ford Seale - that is until the victim's brother joined with a television producer to look for more information on the case. The brother, Thomas Moore, was twenty when his nineteen year old brother Charlie was killed along with Henry Dee. And today, Thomas Moore told us that he still feels guilty.

Mr. THOMAS MOORE (Brother of Murder Victim): You just feel that if I had been there I could have did something, so it's the beginning of a closure for me. It help me getting some demons off of my back.

CHADWICK: This is one of several cold cases from the civil rights era to make its way, only in recent years, to federal court. Here's reporter Karen Grigsby-Bates.

KAREN GRIGSBY-BATES: Charles Moore and Henry Dee disappeared one hot afternoon in the Mississippi countryside, after stopping for ice cream at a roadside stand. The next time their relatives saw the nineteen-year-olds they were in pieces. Ironically, a clutch of divers came across the boys torsos weighted down with automobile parts during the well publicized search for the bodies of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi. It was 1964. Mark Potok is director the intelligence project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. He says the Seale case may represent a closing chapter in a dark era.

Mr. MARK POTOK (Southern Poverty Law Center): Yeah, amongst the better known murders of the civil rights era, this is very nearly the end. There's really one major case possibly outstanding, the case of Emit Till.

GRIGSBY-BATES: It's important to put the time when Moore and Dee died in context. The Freedom Summer of 1964 had brought scores of students from around the country into the deep south to highlight the racial disparities there. Predictably, some locals reacted with violence.

Mr. MARK POTOK: You know there was a race war going on at that time and it really was not possible for a black person in Mississippi to get justice. It simply didn't happen.

GRIGSBY-BATES: Donna Ladd is a reporter for the "Jackson Free Press". She followed as Thomas Moore tried to track down his brother's killer. They got help along the way from many people in the state who remembered bits and pieces of events surrounding the murders, and slowly the puzzle fell into place.

Ms. DONNA LADD (Reporter, Jackson Free Press): It's frustrating to be from a state where so many of these cases languished for so long and to have watched so many people not try to do anything about it. And so now that the fact that we got this opportunity to kind of participate in this, this kind of search for justice for a fellow Mississippian was really important to us.

GRIGSBY-BATES: Even today, Ladd says, some Mississippian's resist delving into the past because so much progress has been made in the present. The state has gone from intimidating, even killing blacks attempting to vote, to electing many black politicians. Ladd says residents have to confront the state's violent past in order to overcome it.

Ms. LADD: It's like the elephant in the room that we don't want to talk about because we've been told over and over again that - just leave it in the past because it's too painful. And what we find is that it's too painful to leave it in the past.

GRIGSBY-BATES: Charles Moore and Henry Dee may both finally receive the justice their families had hoped for, for more than four decades. But says SPLC's Mark Potok, there are other families throughout the south who will always wonder where their murdered loved ones lie.

Mr. POTOCK: They say, you know when the Arc Angel Gabriel blows his trumpet, so many bodies; so many black bodies will rise up out of the rivers of the south that you know that you'll be able to walk across dry footed. And you know while that's certainly and exaggeration, you know, I think the sad reality is that these cases are the tip of the iceberg.

GRIGSBY-BATES: Karen Grigsby-Bates, NPR News.

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