The Unsolved Mystery of the First People Killed During the Civil Rights Movement

The Unsolved Mystery of the First People Killed During the Civil Rights Movement

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It was a double celebration: Christmas, and the Moores’ 25th anniversary. and Harriette Moore celebrated the way they had 25 years before, cutting the cake together like newlyweds. They had no idea that the tender moment would be among their last. As they settled in to their bed to sleep that evening in 1951, a massive explosion tore through their bedroom.

Within hours, Harry T. Moore was dead. Within days, his wife was, too. With the death of the Moores, the nascent Civil Rights Movement got its first martyrs.

The Moores had been murdered, victims of an improvised explosive device made with dynamite and shoved beneath their bedroom floor. It seemed like a simple case: Harry T. Moore had been fighting segregation and racism in the Jim Crow South for years, making plenty of enemies along the way.

But though the Moores’ murders produced an immediate list of suspects, even a deathbed confession, no arrest was ever made in their case. To this day, it remains unsolved, despite convincing evidence that the Moores were killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Moores had already sacrificed for their beliefs. Born in segregated Florida, both had been fired from their jobs as teachers after they founded a local chapter of the NAACP. At the time, segregation was the norm in former Confederate states, and the Moores and other black Southerners had few opportunities for economic or social advancement. Harry had met his wife after getting a job at a school for black children in Cocoa, Florida. The Titusville “Negro School” offered black students a chance at an equal education, and Moore eventually became its principal.

But his political activism—including founding the Brevard County NAACP and filing a lawsuit to try to force Florida to pay black teachers as much as white ones—put him in the crosshairs of Florida’s racist political establishment and locals. He was fired from his job as principal, and Harriette was fired from her teaching position. In response, Harry became an organizer for the NAACP, traveling Florida, registering black voters, and investigating lynchings across the state.

As Harry’s activism became more and more visible, he became a target. Lynching was still alive and well in Florida, and vigilantes often took the law into their own hands, even in the few cases where the legal system ruled in favor of black people.

One such case was the 1949 Groveland rape case, in which four young black men were accused of raping a white woman. Three of the suspects were brutally beaten by police after being taken into custody; a fourth, Ernest Thomas, was shot over 400 times by a posse that chased him down after he escaped custody. The surviving men all contested the accusations and were all convicted by all-white juries.

Harry organized a campaign to support their appeals, and two of the cases reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Thurgood Marshall represented the defendants and they won the case. But they were subsequently shot by Sheriff Willis McCall, who transported the men from prison to the location of their new trial. One defendant, Samuel Shepherd, died. The other, Walter Irvin, was gravely wounded, but survived. He accused McCall of murder. Harry Moore campaigned hard against McCall, calling for him to be suspended and indicted.

Harry’s murder took place just six weeks after he called for McCall’s indictment. As the outraged black community mourned the deaths and called for justice, the FBI began investigating the murders. They conducted hundreds of interviews, even building a scale model of the Moores’ home and blowing it up with dynamite. Immediately, the FBI homed in on the Ku Klux Klan, which was large and active in the area. Many of the area’s most important business, political and law enforcement figures were members, and the FBI determined that they were aware of Harry and his activities.

They identified two suspects, both members of the Klan: Tillman H. Belvin and Earl J. Brooklyn. An informant told the FBI that Brooklyn had shown them a floorplan of the Moore home, and another witness told the FBI that they had seen both men asking about the Moores’ address. Another suspect, Joseph Neville Cox, killed himself after two interviews with the FBI.

The case looked like it was close to being solved—but then it fell apart. Though the suspects and their Klan activities were well known, suspected witnesses refused to talk. Eyewitnesses suddenly refused to testify or backpedaled their claims. Then, Belvin and Brooklyn died, both of natural causes.

It seemed like the true story behind the murders would never be told. Then, in 1978, the Brevard County sheriff reopened the investigation. A local citizen who spoke out loudly against the renewed investigation, Edward L. Spivey, was dying of cancer. He gave extensive testimony and ended up revealing that Cox had been responsible for planting the dynamite. Though officials became convinced that Spivey had been at the house when Cox planted the bomb, they never prosecuted because the sheriff who had reopened the case, Roland Zimmerman, lost his re-election bid. Spivey died soon after. He was never prosecuted.

The case has been reopened multiple times since the 1970s. In 1991, Florida’s governor ordered a new investigation. Though Klan informants cooperated with the investigation, it did not result in any indictments. In 2004, the Florida Attorney General ordered another investigation. But though they interviewed over 100 people, they came to the same conclusion as others: that the four previously suspected men had carried out the bombing. All were dead. In 2008, the FBI came to the same conclusion. In 2011, an attempt to reopen the case yet again failed.

Today, the Christmas Day bombing is thought of as the first murder in the Civil Rights Movement. Years before figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Medgar Evers were killed, the Moores paid the price for their activism. The investigation of their deaths followed a pattern that had been set for centuries: Instead of helping ferret out the murderers, white Southerners rallied around the perpetrators. Few came forward to give information that could help build a case, even when the perpetrators’ identities were known.

The reforms the Moores fought so hard to achieve would have helped people like them find some hope of a fair trial in a just legal system. But they died before the Civil Rights Movement bore fruit. In the Moores’ case—and those of thousands of black people who were lynched or murdered with no legal resolution—justice would never be served.

The Unsolved Mystery of the First People Killed During the Civil Rights Movement - HISTORY

(Originally published on 03.01.2012)

If you ask a friend to name someone from the Civil Rights Movement, most will probably name Martin Luther King, Jr. and there’s no questioning the legacy left behind by MLK and his impact on the African-American Civil Rights Movement. During the 1950s and 60s, many blacks were killed and their stories were never told, their murders were never solved and justice never prevailed. Among the many who lost their lives, some stories did make national headlines and helped change civil rights for blacks in America. Learn the names and stories of five black men who helped shape the civil rights movement in life and death.

James Earl Chaney was a young black man born and raised in Meridian, Mississippi. In the summer of 1964, Chaney volunteered with CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) to establish education on voting and became a liaison between CORE and church leaders to encourage churches to set-up voter registration stations. Chaney and two white volunteers, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, were investigating a church fire in Philadelphia, MS when they were arrested on traffic violations and then released later that night.

As they made their way back to Meridian, two cars full of Klansmen ambushed their vehicle, shooting and killing Schwerner and Goodman. Chaney was also shot after he was tortured and chain-whipped. The three men were missing for 44 days before being found in a riverbank. Chaney’s murder gained national attention, but many people felt his story wouldn’t have been told were it not for the two white men who were also murdered with him. Chaney’s brutal murder contributed to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Jimmie Lee Jackson was a 26-year-old deacon from Marion, Alabama. Jackson had unsuccessfully tried to vote for several years, and began attending meetings at Zion United Methodist Church to learn about black voting rights. On February 18, 1965, Jackson and 500 others walked in a non-violent march from the church to the jail where a civil rights worker was being held. The police and state troopers met the protestors and began beating them in the streets.

Jackson, his mother, and grandfather ran into a nearby cafe for safety but police chased them into the restaurant. After beating Jackson’s mother and grandfather, Alabama State Trooper James Bonard Fowler shot Jackson twice at close range. At the time, a grand jury refused to indict Fowler. In 2007, Fowler was charged with first degree murder of Jackson, but only served six months in jail for manslaughter. Jackson’s death sparked the Selma to Montgomery marches and the historic "Bloody Sunday" protest.

George Winston Lee was a reverend and civil rights leader who was living in Belzoni, Mississippi in 1955. Lee was a well-respected leader and established a field branch of the NAACP in Belzoni. He was also Vice President of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL) and gave a speech almost a month before his killing to a crowd of over 7,000. On the evening of May 7, 1955, Lee was driving home when he was shot three times at close range. Local authorities said Lee died of injuries sustained in a car accident, but amid pressure from black leaders like Medgar Evers, Lee’s murder was investigated but remains unsolved to this day. Lee’s murder helped expose the oppressive nature of Jim Crow states and gave momentum to the civil rights movement.

Medgar Evers was a World War I veteran and civil rights activist from Mississippi. Evers helped organize boycotts of gas stations that refused to allow blacks to use their restrooms, and worked towards segregating the University of Mississippi. Evers was very vocal in the murder of Emmett Till and others, and became a target of white supremacists. On June 12, 1963, Evers was shot and killed in his driveway. His murder inspired many civil rights protests and brought more attention to the civil rights movement. Although Byron De La Beckwith was arrested for the murder, it would take over 30 years for a jury to convict him of Evers’ murder.

Emmett Louis "Bobo" Till was a precocious 14-year-old black boy from Chicago who was visiting relatives in Mississippi the summer of 1955. He reportedly whistled at a white woman in a grocery store and was kidnapped a few days later by the woman’s husband and brother-in-law, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milan.

Till was brutally beaten and his eye was gouged out before the men shot him, tied a 70-lb cotton gin fan around his neck with barbed wire and dumped him in the Tallahatchie River. Till’s body was found 3 days later and returned to Chicago where his mother insisted on an open casket so that the world could see what was done to her innocent child. Both "Jet" magazine and "The Chicago Defender" published the photos, making Till’s murder a global story. Till’s murder is considered the catalyst for the start of the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

Fred Hampton, a leader for the Black Panther Party in Chicago, Illinois was killed in his apartment during a police raid while sleeping, unarmed in 1968. The police raid was in retaliation for a previous shoot out police had with members of the Black Panther Party that killed two policemen. The policeman who killed Hampton were acquitted in court, but members of the Black Panther Party would call it an assassination.

Harry and Hariette Moore were a husband and wife team of civil rights activists and teachers who founded the NAACP in Brevard County, Florida. In 1951, the couple’s house was bombed and both of them were murdered. 55 years after the bombing, the state of Florida concluded an investigation into the bombing and found that three, since deceased members of the Ku Klu Klan were responsible.

The ADA Was a Monumental Achievement 30 Years Ago, but the Fight for Equal Rights Continues

For disability rights leader Judy Heumann, the tumult of 2020—first the COVID-19 pandemic, then a reignited movement against racial injustice—underscores just how much work remains to be done.

“Everything’s kind of being thrown into the pot right now, right?” she says.

Heumann has been at the forefront of the fight for equality for disabled Americans. She relishes the hard-won successes but has no misconceptions about how looking back at 30 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed on July 26, 1990, much progress still has to be made.

That day, the United States became the first country to pass comprehensive protections for the basic civil rights of people with disabilities, outlawing discrimination against individuals with disabilities in schools, employment, transportation and other key parts of public life. The ADA would also remake the physical environment of the country by mandating accessibility in public spaces—entry ramps, Braille on signs, automatic doors, curb cuts and lifts on city buses and other measures that make it easier for the more than 61 million Americans living with disabilities to participate fully in society.

Heumann, who contracted polio as a baby and has used a wheelchair most of her life, grew up in Brooklyn, where the local public school refused to let her attend because of her disability. Protections for the civil rights of people with disabilities in those days were limited—neither the 1964 Civil Rights Act nor the 1965 Voting Rights Act had included people with disabilities as a protected class.

Her first foray into activism came in 1970, when Heumann sued the Board of Education of the City of New York to become the city’s first teacher who uses a wheelchair. She later moved to Berkeley, California, where she worked alongside activist Ed Roberts at the Center for Independent Living, a pioneering home for people with disabilities founded on the principles of community and self-empowerment.

Protester Ken Stein made this poster during the historic 504 sit-in at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare offices in San Francisco. The sit-in lasted more than 25 days. (Smithsonian National Museum of American History)

In 1977, she, fellow activists Kitty Cone, Brad Lomax and others led a grueling sit-in at a federal building in San Francisco to demand that the government enforce Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which stated that federally funded organizations could not discriminate against people with disabilities. (The new Netflix documentary Crip Camp, produced by Barack and Michelle Obama, includes inspiring documentary footage of the protest.)

The 504 sit-in united Americans with different kinds of disabilities—people who were hearing or visually impared, or who used wheelchairs or had mental disabilities—in an unprecedented way, Heumann says. “It empowered us,” she recalls. “Simply put, we were slowly moving from being a rag-tag, unorganized group of disabled people … to a cross-disability movement. We were really recognizing that it was possible for us to envision a day when barriers of discrimination could be torn down… Without the voices of disabled individuals, we would not have gotten 504, the way it ultimately came out, nor would we have been able to get the ADA.”

When President George H.W. Bush finally signed the ADA in 1990, he was flanked by some of the key people who helped its passage, including Justin Dart Jr., the vice chair of the National Council on Disability, who had embarked on an epic nationwide tour to advocate for the legislation just years earlier.

George Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990. Reverend Harold Wilkie, a disability rights advocate, and Sandra Parrino of the National Council on Disability stand behind. Evan Kemp, chairman of the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission, sits on the President's right Justin Dart Jr. sits on his left, wearing a blue and white "ADA" button. (Photo by Fotosearch / Getty Images)

“When it was passed and signed, there was a huge ceremony because it was seen as this amazing national moment, even though the law was imperfect,” says Katherine Ott, the curator in the division of science and medicine at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. “At the moment, it was one of the happiest days in the 20th century for people with disabilities.”

In the three decades that followed, a new generation of Americans with disabilities, known as the “ADA generation,” grew up in a world where their basic rights were protected by the law. But the ADA has its limits.

Thirty years later, experts say that many of the ADA’s promises of universal accessibility have not come to pass—in part because laws like Section 504 and the ADA are predicated on someone litigating, explains Beth Ziebarth, who directs Access Smithsonian, the branch of the Smithsonian Institution that works to make its museums, zoo and research centers accessible to all.

“The mechanism for actually implementing the ADA, in many respects, is the process of somebody with a disability filing a complaint about the lack of accessibility,” Ziebarth says. “That leads to spotty compliance across the country.”

For instance, Heumann notes that air travel—an industry not covered by the ADA—has become “worse and worse” for people with disabilities over the years, particularly when it comes to getting motorized wheelchairs in and out of cargo pits. Technology companies, too, often lag behind in providing accessibility measures for users with disabilities—contributing to what’s known as the “digital divide,” she says.

“The ADA is a very important piece of legislation. But even if it were being implemented as effectively as possible, it still doesn’t address other issues that disabled people are facing,” Heumann says.

"I love the ADA" button, circa 1990s (Smithsonian National Museum of American History)

Issues of representation for all people with disabilities—and particularly people of color—are now more a part of the conversation than ever. When protests against racial injustice erupted across the country in May after the killing of George Floyd, many disability activists were quick to point out how issues of disability rights and civil rights for African Americans are interconnected, and sometimes overlooked. Studies estimate that one-third to one-half of black Americans killed by the police are experiencing episodes of mental illness or have a disability, although no national database exists to track those statistics, as reporter Abigail Abrams reported for Time last month.

In June, South Carolina-based disability rights activist Vilissa Thompson watched snapshots of the Black Disabled Lives Matter marches in Washington D.C. flood her timeline. “It was really incredible to see,” Thompson says.

At 34 years old, Thompson, who is black and uses a wheelchair, feels lucky to have grown up with the ADA. But the disability movement must also reckon with racism, inclusivity and an intersectional understanding of race and disability, she says.

“If you’re going to talk about black liberation or freedom, disability rights have to be involved in the story, and vice versa,” Thompson says.

On her website, Ramp Your Voice, Thompson has written extensively about black leaders in the Disability Rights Movement whose stories are often left out of the historical narrative, activists like Brad Lomax, who played a pivotal role in the 504 Sit-In by connecting activists with the Black Panther Party, which provided hot meals to the people stuck in the federal building.

In 2016, Thompson started the hashtag #DisabilityTooWhite to draw attention to media stories that center white disabled people, which continues to be used to this day: “We have to understand that black disabled folks have always been a part of both movements, the disability rights movement and the civil rights movement, whether they get acknowledgement or not,” she says.

Apart from the noteworthy anniversary, the ADA made news over a conflation of who and what the ADA specifically protects. A fake badge appropriating the ADA as an excuse to avoid wearing face masks—a claim that the Department of Justice disavowed—has blossomed on Facebook and Twitter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Inappropriate use of the ADA is not uncommon,” Thompson says. “It’s upsetting that people are using the ADA in this way to avoid responsibility and what they can do during this time. It’s a grotesque misuse of the mandate.”

Individuals with disabilities who also have underlying chronic illness are likely at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, and those living in nursing homes or institutions face higher risks of transmission, Heumann points out. Workers with disabilities have also been disproportionately affected by the financial fallout of the national shutdown, according to initial studies.

The pandemic also brought deep-rooted disparities in medical care against people with disabilities to the fore: in March, for instance, disability rights groups in Washington and Alabama filed complaints against state ventilator rationing plans, as Minyvonne Burke reported for NBC News at the time. These plans suggested that medical professionals could chose to not use ventilators on patients with disabilities in the case of a shortage.

“It was shades of the eugenics issue all over again,” Ziebarth says, referring to the long history of forced sterilization and euthanasia that Americans with disabilities endured, particularly in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. “That’s kind of a scary reality: we’re not far away from everything going back to where it was in the early 1900s.”

For Ziebarth, it reveals how fragile hard-won progress can be. “We realize that it’s really important for the younger generations to understand that your rights can be taken away from you,” Ziebarth says. “We need to be vigilant. Otherwise we can lose everything that people fought so hard for.”

The Unsolved Murder of Civil Rights Activist Harry Moore

It was late on Christmas night, 1951, but Harry and Harriette Moore had yet to open any gifts. Instead they had delayed the festivities in anticipation of the arrival of their younger daughter, Evangeline, who was taking a train home from Washington, D.C. to celebrate along with her sister and grandmother. The Moores had another cause for celebration: the day marked their 25th wedding anniversary, a testament to their unshakeable partnership. But that night in their quiet home on a citrus grove in rural Mims, Florida, the African American couple were fatal victims of a horrific terrorist attack at the hands of those who wanted to silence the Moores.

At 10:20 p.m., a blast ripped apart their bedroom, splintering the floorboards, ceiling and front porch. The explosion was so powerful that witness reported hearing it several miles away. Pamphlets pushing for voters’ rights floated out of the house and onto the street, remnants of a long fight for justice. Harry Moore had spent much of the last two decades earning the enmity of Florida’s white supremacists as he organized for equal pay, voter registration, and justice for murdered African Americans. And yet despite his immense sacrifice and the nation’s initial shock at his assassination, Moore’s name soon faded from the pantheon of Civil Rights martyrs.

After the attack, Moore’s mother and daughter knew they would be unable to get an ambulance willing to transport a black victim, so nearby relatives drove the wounded Harry and Harriette to the town of Sanford, which was more than 30 miles away on a dark, two-lane road bracketed by dense foliage. Harry died shortly after arriving in the hospital, Harriette would die a little more than a week later. When Evangeline arrived at the train station the next day, “She didn’t see her mother and father, but she saw her aunts and uncles and family members. She knew something was wrong,” says Sonya Mallard, coordinator for the Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Cultural Complex, who knew Evangeline before her death in 2015. Her uncle broke the news on the drive to the hospital, and “her world was never the same again. Never.”

In the years before his death, Harry Moore was increasingly a marked man—and he knew it. But he had begun charting this course in the 1930s, when he worked tirelessly to register black voters. He later expanded his efforts into fighting injustice in lynching cases (Florida had more lynchings per capita than any other state at the time), putting him in the crosshairs of Florida’s most violent and virulent racists.

“Harry T. Moore understood that we had to make a better way, we had to change what was going on here in the state of Florida,” says Mallard. Traveling around the state on roads where it was too dangerous to even use a public restroom, Moore’s mother, Rosa, worried he’d be killed, “but he kept on going because he knew it was bigger than him,” says Mallard.

Moore was born in 1905 in the panhandle town of Houston, Florida. His father, Johnny, owned a small shop and worked for the railroad, and died when Harry was just 9 years old. After trying to support her son as a single parent, Rosa sent Harry to live with his aunts in Jacksonville, a hub for African American business and culture that would prove to be influential on the young Moore. After graduating from Florida Memorial College, as today’s university was then known, Moore likely could have made a relatively comfortable life in Jacksonville.

However, the climate in Florida as a whole as hostile to African Americans. His formative years were ones of pervasive racial violence often unchecked by officials. Before the 1920 election, displaying the impunity enjoyed by white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan “marched in downtown Orlando specifically to intimidate black voters,” says Ben Brotemarkle, executive director of the Florida Historical Society. When a man named July Perry came to Orlando from nearby Ocoee to vote, he was beaten, shot and hung from a light post and then the primarily African American town was burned in a mob rampage that killed dozens. For decades after, Ocoee had no black residents and was known as a “sundown town” today the city of 46,000 is 21 percent African American.

A portrait of Harry T. and Henrietta V. Moore (Courtesy of the Moore Cultural Complex)

In 1925, Moore began teaching at a school for black students in Cocoa, Florida, a few miles south of Mims and later assumed the role of principal at the Titusville Colored School. His first year in Cocoa, Harry met Harriette Simms, three years his senior, at a party. She later became a teacher after the birth of their first daughter, Annie Rosalea, known as Peaches. Evangeline was born in 1930.)

His civic activism flowed from his educational activism. “He would bring his own materials and educate students about black history, but what he also did was bring in ballots and he taught his students how to vote. He taught his students the importance of the candidates and making a decision to vote for people who took your interests seriously,” says Brotemarkle.

In 1934, Moore joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), an indication of his growing interest in civic matters. In 1937, Moore pushed for a lawsuit challenging the chasm between black and white teachers’ salaries in his local Brevard County, with fellow educator John Gilbert as the plaintiff. Moore enlisted the support of NAACP lawyer (and later Supreme Court Justice) Thurgood Marshall, the start of their professional collaboration. The lawsuit was defeated in both the Circuit Court and the Florida Supreme Court. For his efforts, the Moores later lost their teachings jobs—as did Gilbert.

In the early 1940s, Moore organized the Florida State conference of the NAACP and significantly increased membership (he would later become its first paid executive secretary). He also formed the Progressive Voters’ League in Florida in 1944. “He understood the significance of the power of the vote. He understood the significance of the power of the pen. And he wrote letters and typed letters to anyone and everyone that would listen. And he knew that [African Americans] had to have a voice and we had to have it by voting,” says Mallard. In 1947, building on the U.S. Supreme Court case in which Marshall successfully argued against Texas’ “white primary” that excluded minority voters, Moore organized a letter writing campaign to help rebuff bills proposed in the Florida legislature that would effectively perpetuate white primaries. (As the Tampa Bay Times notes, Florida was “a leading innovator of discriminatory barriers to voting.”)

Before his death, Moore’s efforts in the state helped increase the number of black voters by more than 100,000, according to the Moore Cultural Complex, a figure sure to catch the attention of influential politicians.

But success was a risky proposition. “Moore was coming into a situation in Central Florida where there was a lot of Klan activity, there were a lot of Klansman who had positions in government, and it was a very tenuous time for civil rights,” says Brotemarkle. “People were openly being intimidated and kept away from the polls, and Moore worked diligently to fight that.”

Moore was willing to risk much more than his job. He first became involved in anti-lynching efforts after three white men kidnapped 15-year-old Willie James Howard, bound him with ropes and drowned him in a river for the “crime” of passing a note to a white girl in 1944. The perpetual inaction in cases like Howard’s, in which no one was arrested, tried, or convicted, spurred Moore to effect change. In a 1947 letter to Florida’s congressional delegation, Moore wrote “We cannot afford to wait until the several states get ‘trained’ or ‘educated’ to the point where they can take effective action in such cases. Human life is too valuable for more experimenting of this kind. The Federal Government must be empowered to take the necessary action for the protection of its citizens.”

Moore letters show a polite, but persistent, push for change. His scholarly nature obscured the profound courage it took to stand up to the hostile forces around him in Florida. Those who knew him recall a quiet, soft-spoken man. “The fiery from the pulpit speech? That was not Harry T. Moore. He was much more behind the scenes, but no less aggressive. You can see it from his letters that he was every bit as brave,” says Brotemarkle.

Two years before his death, Moore placed himself in harm’s way in the most prominent manner yet with his involvement in the Groveland Four incident. The men had been accused of raping a white woman a mob went to drag them from jail and not finding them there, burned and shot into nearby black residents’ homes. After their arrest, conviction by an all-white jury was practically a foregone conclusion, despite attorneys’ assertions that the defendants’ confessions were physically coerced. The case also pitted Moore against Sherriff Willis McCall, who was investigated numerous times in his career for misconduct related to race.

While transporting two of the suspects, McCall shot them, killing one. McCall claimed he had been attacked, but the shootings elicited furious protest. All this took place against the backdrop of the ongoing legal battle—eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a re-trial, which again ended in the conviction of the surviving suspect, who was represented by Thurgood Marshall. (In recent years, Florida has posthumously pardoned and apologized to all four of the accused).

Moore wrote repeatedly to Governor Fuller Warren, methodically dismantling McCall’s claims. He admonished Warren that “Florida is on trial before the rest of the world,” calling on him to remove the officers involved in the shooting. He closed with a reminder that “Florida Negro citizens are still mindful of the fact that our votes proved to be your margin of victory in the [runoff election in] 1948. We seek no special favors but certainly we have a right to expect justice and equal protection of the laws even for the humblest Negro. Shall we be disappointed again?”

Compounding Moore’s woes, just weeks after the shooting of the Groveland suspects and weeks before his own death, he lost his job at the NAACP. Moore had clashed with the organization’s national leadership for his forward political involvement and disagreements over fundraising. It was a severe blow, but he continued his commitment to the work—albeit now on an unpaid basis.

During the fall of 1951, Florida saw a rash of religious and racial violence. Over a three-month period, multiple bombs had hit Carver Village, a housing complex in Miami leasing to black tenants, in what was likely the work of the KKK a synagogue and Catholic church were also menaced. “As dark shadow of violence has drifted across sunny Florida—cast by terrorist who blast and kill in the night,” the Associated Press reported days after the Christmas bombing. If lesser known black residents were targeted, then Moore’s prominence meant his situation was especially perilous.

“Moore ruffled a lot of feathers, and there was a large population of Florida that didn’t want to see the type of change that he was part of,” says Brotemarkle.

“I tried to get him to quit the N.A.A.C.P., thinking something might happen to him some day,” Rosa Moore told a reporter after the bombing. “But he told me, ‘I’m trying to do what I can to elevate the Negro race. Every advancement comes by the way of sacrifice, and if I sacrifice my life or health I still think it is my duty for my race.”

News of Moore’s Christmas night death made headlines across the country. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt expressed her sadness. Governor Warren called for a full investigation but clashed with NAACP executive secretary Walter White, who accused the governor of not doing enough. Warren said White “has come to Florida to try to stir up strife” and called him a “hired Harlem hatemonger.”

While Moore may have been out of favor with the NAACP’s national leadership shortly before his death, he was venerated soon after. In March of 1952, the NAACP held a fundraising gala in New York City, featuring the “Ballad of Harry T. Moore,” written by poet Langston Hughes. His name was a rallying cry at numerous events.

“The Moore bombings set off the most intense civil rights uproar in a decade,” writes Ben Green in Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry T. Moore, America’s First Civil Rights Martyr. “There had been more violent racial incidents…but the Moore bombing was so personal, so singular – a man and his wife blown up in their home on Christmas Day – that it became a magnifying glass to focus the nation’s revulsion.”

While the publicity helped galvanize awareness for civil rights on a national level, the assassination soon had a chilling effect on voter registration in Florida. “People were petrified, they were scared,” says Mallard. The KKK “terrorized you, they killed you, they lynched you, they scared you. They did all that to shut you up.”

Meanwhile Harriette Moore remained hospitalized for nine days, dying from her injuries one day after her husband’s funeral. “There isn't much left to fight for. My home is wrecked. My children are grown up. They don't need me. Others can carry on," she had told a reporter in a bedside interview. Harriette’s discouragement was palpable, after years of facing the same threats side by side with Harry. “She adored her husband,” says Mallard.

The crime has never been definitively solved, despite commitments from notorious FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover in the bombing’s aftermath and from Florida Governor Charlie Crist in the mid-2000s. After almost 70 years, the identity of the killer or killers may never be pinpointed, but those who have studied Moore’s life and the multiple investigations of the case are confident it was the work of the KKK.

“As the movement’s ranks swelled and the battle was carried to Birmingham, Nashville, Tallahassee, Little Rock, Greensboro and beyond, the unsolved murders of Harry and Harriette Moore, still hanging in limbo, were forgotten,” Green writes. “For Evangeline and Peaches Moore, the pain and heartache never ceased. The murderers of their parents still walked the streets, and no one seemed to care.”

A quote by Harry Moore adorns a fountain outside the Moore Cultural Complex (Francine Uenuma)

Moore’s life and death underscore that not all heroes become legends. Today cities like Selma, Montgomery and Memphis—not Mims—evoke images of the Civil Rights struggle. Moore worked for almost two decades without the weight of national outrage behind him. No television cameras documented the brutal violence or produced the images needed to appall Americans in other states. The Maya Lin-designed Civil Rights Memorial situated across the street from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s office in Montgomery, Alabama, recognizes martyrs from 1955 until Martin Luther King Jr.’s death in 1968. That was 17 years after the Moores were killed.

“When you talk about the contemporary civil rights movement, [people] look at the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 as kind of the starting place for the timeline, and while that can be seen as true in a lot of ways, it overlooks a lot of activity that led up to that,” says Brotemarkle.

Nonetheless Moore’s work and legacy helped lay the groundwork for the expansion of civil rights onto the national platform, and Moore has received some belated recognition in recent decades. The Moore Cultural Complex in Mims welcomes visitors to a replica of their home, rebuilt on the original property. Several of their personal effects are on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C.

In looking back at Moore’s life and work, it is abundantly clear he was never motivated by name recognition in the first place. Moore’s goal was singular - his daughter would later remember him saying before his death that “I have endeavored to help the Negro race and laid my life on the altar.”

The Unsolved Civil Rights Murder of William Lewis Moore

The struggle for civil rights in the United States has a long and murderous history. William Lewis Moore was murdered while waging a one-man protest against segregation.

Morbidology Podcast

Morbidology is a weekly true crime podcast created and hosted by Emily G. Thompson. Using investigative research combined with primary audio, Morbidology takes an in-depth look at true crime cases from all across the world.

The struggle for civil rights in the United States has a murderous history. Unfortunately, because of lingering institutional racism in the south, a lot of these murders were not fully investigated and a number of them still remain unsolved today. One such case is that of William Lewis Moore, a staunch advocate for civil rights. He was raised in Mississippi but on the white side of town.

Moore was born in Binghamton, New York, but following the death of his mother, 2-year-old Moore moved to live with his grandparents in Russell, Mississippi. As an adult, Moore served as a combat Marine in the Pacific Theater before having a mental breakdown in the mid-1950s. Moore was institutionalised for three and a half years and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Following his release, he became a staunch and dedicated activist for the mentally ill. He wrote a book titled “Mind in Chains” in which he described his experiences in a psychiatric hospital and started a newsletter about the stigma associated with being mentally ill. 1

He soon became involved with the civil rights movement and subsequently fought for the rights of African Americans. Moore would often organise demonstrations for civil rights in Binghampton and became a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) which was a vital arm of activism at the time. Moore moved to an apartment in the 400 block of E. 25th St in Baltimore so that he could be closer to civil rights organisations. In 1963, he was arrested while at a segregation protest in the Northwood Theatre.

In Baltimore, Moore made individual walks emphasising rights for African Americans to the state capitol in Annapolis, Maryland, and even to the White House where he was refused admission and his hand-written letter to President John F. Kennedy was denied. 2 Moore’s letter said that he wanted to walk to Mississippi to confront segregationist Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett and that if the president wanted anything delivered, he would happily take it with him. Growing up in Mississippi, Moore had been horrified to witness Gov. Ross Barnett giving pro segregation speeches as Confederate flags fluttered behind him in the wind.

Despite the knock-back at the White House, Moore applied for a two week vacation from his job at the post office, and continued planning his walk to Mississippi where he wanted to hand deliver a letter to Gov. Ross Barnett, urging him to fundamentally change Mississippi’s racial hierarchy. In this letter, Moore warned “do not go down in infamy as one who fought the democracy for all which you have not the power to prevent.”

Everybody begged Moore not to go and warned him that protesting segregation in the deep South was a death wish. Despite their worries, Moore was adamant that he was going to make a change. “He told me he hoped to awaken the whole world, not only the South, to its racial obligations. He said if the day would ever come when the Negro race gained authority that the Negroes would be kinder to the white races than the whites had been to the Negroes,” said Herbert Gardner, a colleague of Moore, in an interview with The Evening Sun. Moore purchased a bus ticket to Chattanooga, Tennessee, which is where he wanted to begin his walk to Jackson, Mississippi – a lengthy trek of almost 400 miles. He planned on walking 40 miles for 10 days. Tragically, Moore never got a chance to deliver the letter he would be shot dead while walking to his destination.

It was the 21st of April, 1963, when Moore set off on his trek. He was wearing a sandwich board which proudly read:

“Equal rights for all & Mississippi or Bust” and on the other side: “End Segregation in America” and “Eat at Joe’s – Black and White.” In addition, he pulled a two-wheeled postal cart which contained a photograph of Jesus along with the text: “Wanted: Agitator, Carpenter by Trade, Revolutionary, Consorter with Criminals and Prostitutes.” Along his way, Moore certainly attracted some stares and confrontations, all of which he documented in his journal. According to Mary Stanton, author of Freedom Walk, the polite individuals interrogated him about his intentions and urged him to turn back the others, however, threatened him. And around 70 miles into his journey, Moore was met by somebody who did much more than just threaten him.

Dusk was fast approaching on the 23rd of April. 1963 Ellis Elrod was driving along a lonely two-lane stretch of U.S. Highway 11 in rural north eastern Alabama when he spotted a glimpse of something at the side of the road. Elrod decided to turn his car around to get a better look at what he had seen. As his flashlights illuminated the area, he was met by a grisly scene. Lying at the side of the road, just underneath a walnut tree, was the body of Moore. Alongside his bloody, lifeless, body was the two signs he had been proudly carrying just hours earlier. An autopsy concluded that Moore had been killed by two bullets one entered above his left eyebrow and the other entered his throat. It was determined that the fatal shots had come from a .22-caliber automatic rifle.

The murder sent shock-waves through the civil rights movement the white supporters saw a Northern white man consumed by the violence that was mostly perpetrated against African Americans. African Americans saw just how far segregationists would go. “He was white and he was killed. That in itself triggered a lot of things in both the black and white community,” said Robert Avery, a Gadsden City Council member. Several weeks later, ten members of CORE and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee attempted to complete Moore’s walk, leaving from Chattanooga. According to several eyewitness reports, they were taunted unmercifully. “Hope you stop a .22” mocked one passer-by. When the group arrived in Alabama, they were arrested and jailed. They were subsequently transferred to Kilby State Prison in Montgomery and, according to one source, were housed on Death Row. They were released a month later.

Floyd Simpson, a Ku Klux Klan member, was picked up on suspicion of the murder after a witness had seen a car like his near the crime scene. Following his arrest, the state compared shells taken from the murder scene and bullets from Moore’s body to rounds that were fired from Simpson’s rifle. The examination indicated that the shell markings were identical to those on the test casings. As it was soon discovered, Simpson and Moore had an unsavoury meeting just hours before Moore was shot dead. Simpson owned a shop in Alabama and as he saw Moore stroll past, he called him over. “They didn’t think I’d finish my walk alive. They didn’t think people believed I really stood for the things I did,” wrote Moore in his journal. Moore also wrote how he felt threatened by Simpson. Later on in the same day, he wrote “A couple of men who had talked to me before drove up and questioned my religious and political beliefs,” he wrote. “’Now I know what you are,’ one of the men said. And one was sure I’d be killed for them, such as my ‘Jesus’ poster on my buggy.”

Nevertheless, on the 13th of September. 1963, a grand jury declined to indict Simpson.

The years passed and witnesses and investigators died. Somehow, somewhere along the way, the bullets and other evidence went missing. In 1989, The Civil Rights Memorial was unveiled in Montgomery, Alabama. The Southern Poverty Law Center built the memorial “to commemorate the achievements of the civil rights era and to honor those who died during that struggle.” 3 Forty people are memorialised on the monument, one of which is William Lewis Moore. In 2009, the FBI reopened the case but closed it again, stating there were no new leads.

Through time, Moore’s death has been overshadowed by more symbolic moments in civil rights history. Although his plight isn’t as well known, it is an important chapter in the historic civil rights movement. While Moore never got the chance to deliver his letter, he is remembered today for his bravery. He became a rallying cry for a movement that saw passage of the landmark Civil Rights Acts just the following year. Today, the message in his letter can be heard loud and clear across the world.


In the aftermath of World War II, there was considerable social unrest in the United States, especially in the South. African-American veterans resented being treated as second-class citizens after returning home and began to press for civil rights, including the ability to vote. But many white supremacists resented them and wanted to reestablish dominance. The number of lynchings of black people rose after the war, with twelve lynched in the Deep South in 1945 alone. The states' exclusion of most black people from the political system across the South since the turn of the century had been maintained through a variety of devices, despite several challenges that reached the US Supreme Court challenges.

In April 1946, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that white primaries were unconstitutional, making way for at least some African Americans to vote in Democratic Party primaries that year. In Georgia, some black people prepared to vote in the July primary, against the resistance of most whites. This change is believed to have contributed to the lynchings, as related to the continued white effort to intimidate blacks and suppress their voting. [2]

In 1946, the three-time former governor of Georgia, Eugene Talmadge, was involved in a difficult battle to win the Democratic primary for nomination as governor in the general election that year. [3] At the time, whites in the South voted overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates and winning the Democratic primary was tantamount to winning a general election for an office. [3]

Talmadge's campaign was noted for its violent racist rhetoric: he boasted about having assaulted and flogged the black sharecroppers who worked for his family when he was a young man. He claimed to having carried an ax when he chased a black man who had sat next to a white woman. [4] While campaigning in Walton County, Talmadge held a rally attended by about 600 in Monroe. [4] Among those who attended the rally were two local white farmers, Barnette Hester and J. Loy Harrison, both of whom spoke afterward to Talmadge at a campaign barbecue. [4] Harrison was a long-time supporter of Talmadge and had named his second son after the governor. [4]

Although Talmadge called his opponent, James V. Carmichael, a "nigger lover", Carmichael's rally in Monroe a week later attracted a larger crowd. This suggested that many of the white farmers who had voted for Talmadge as governor in three previous elections were beginning to tire of him. [4]

In July 1946, J. Loy Harrison employed two young African-American couples as sharecroppers on his farm in Walton County, Georgia. One was George W. Dorsey and his wife Mae (Murray) Dorsey. George W. Dorsey (born November 1917) was a veteran of World War II he had been back in the United States less than nine months after having served nearly five years in the Pacific War. Mae (Murray) Dorsey was born September 20, 1922. The other couple were Roger Malcom (born March 22, 1922) and his wife Dorothy (Dorsey) Malcom (born July 25, 1926), who was seven months pregnant.

On July 11, Roger Malcom allegedly stabbed Barnette Hester, a white man Malcom was arrested and held in the county jail in Monroe, the Walton county seat.

In 2007 the Associated Press reported revelations about former governor Eugene Talmadge, based on 3725 pages of FBI material related to its 1946 investigation of the Moore's Ford lynching. Talmadge returned to Monroe on July 12, a day after the stabbing of Barnette Hester. This was five days before the Democratic gubernatorial primary on July 17, and he was seeking rural votes. (According to the county unit system, he could win the primary if he won enough counties, even if his popular vote was not the highest.)

The FBI's investigation later that year reported a witness saying that Talmadge was seen talking to George Hester, the brother of Barnette Hester, in front of the Walton County courthouse in Monroe. Talmadge reportedly "offered immunity to anyone 'taking care of negro'." [3] He hoped the Hester family would use their influence to help him win Walton County in the imminent Democratic primary for governor. [3] Talmadge needed to win enough rural counties in Georgia in order to offset the popularity of his opponent Carmichael in urban areas with higher numbers of residents. [3]

On July 25, Harrison drove Malcom's wife Dorothy and the Dorseys to Monroe, where he personally posted the $600 bail for Roger Malcom to be freed. At the time, Hester was still hospitalized from his stab wounds. [5]

Harrison drove with the two couples back to his farm. At 5:30 p.m. that day, he was forced to stop his car near the Moore's Ford Bridge between Monroe and Watkinsville, where the road was blocked by a gang of 15 to 20 armed white men. [6] According to Harrison:

A big man who was dressed mighty proud in a double-breasted brown suit was giving the orders. He pointed to Roger Malcom and said, "We want that nigger." Then he pointed to George Dorsey, my nigger, and said, "We want you, too, Charlie." I said, "His name ain't Charlie he's George." Someone said "Keep your damned big mouth shut. This ain't your party." [7]

Harrison watched. One of the black women identified one of the assailants. At that point, the man in the expensive suit ordered: "Get those damned women too". [8] The mob took both the women to a big oak tree and tied them beside their husbands. The mob fired three point-blank volleys. The coroner's estimate counted sixty shots were fired at close range. [9] They shot and killed the two couples on a dirt road near Moore's Ford Bridge, which spanned the Apalachee River, 60 miles (97 km) east of Atlanta.

The mass lynching received national coverage and generated outrage. Large protests and marches took place in New York City and Washington, DC against the lynchings. President Harry S. Truman for the first time directed the Justice Department to investigate the crimes under federal civil rights law. He created the President's Committee on Civil Rights in December 1946. The Truman administration also introduced anti-lynching legislation in Congress, but was unable to get it passed against the opposition of the white southern Democratic bloc in the Senate. Together with outrage about the Columbia, Tennessee 1946 race riot, the Moore's Ford lynchings garnered awareness and support from more of the white public for the growing Civil Rights Movement. [10] [11] Demonstrators marched outside of the White House demanding the end of lynchings. [12]

On 28 July 1946, a funeral for the Dorseys and Dorothy Malcom was held at the Mount Perry Baptist Church. [13] As George Dorsey was a World War II veteran, his coffin was draped in an American flag. [13] The funeral was well attended by the national news media, although many black people stayed away out of fear. [13] One black man at the funeral told a journalist from The Chicago Defender: "They're exterminating us. They're killing Negro veterans and we don't have nothing to fight back with except our bare hands". [13]

In his article "The Murders in Monroe", in The New Republic (September 1946), lawyer H. William Fitelson raised a number of questions about the Moore's Ford case: why did Sheriff L.S. Gordon of Walton County set the bail for Roger Malcolm at only $600 dollars (a relatively low sum) and why did Harrison bail out Malcom although he knew Malcolm likely be convicted soon and go to prison? [14] Fitelson said that sharecroppers were easy to replace, and he thought it odd that Harrison spent $600 dollars just to get a man who was likely to be temporary labor, when he could have hired another sharecropper to replace Malcolm for much less money. [13] Fitelson noted that Harrison could have driven the Malcolms and the Dorseys to his farm via the paved highway, which was faster and more convenient, but instead drove down an unpaved dirt side road that was much slower and less used by travelers. He suggested this choice likely ensured no outside witnesses to the mass lynching. [13]

Fitelson wondered about how the lynch mob knew the precise time of day and the road Harrison would use to return to his farm. He thought it strange that Sheriff Gordon personally released Malcolm from the Walton County jail late in the afternoon, but he had not visited the crime scene nor attended the coroner's inquest. [13] Fitelson noted that Mae Dorsey was said to have called out the names of several members of the lynch mob before her death, while Harrison, who had lived his entire life in Walton County, claimed not to know any. [13] Finally, Fitelson noted that Harrison was not harmed by the lynch mob. Even if he truthfully could not identify them that day, the mob let Harrison live, knowing he could recognize one or more of them in the future. [13] Fitelson noted that if charged, members of the lynch mob would have faced four counts of first-degree murder. He wrote that it was most peculiar that the lynch mob allowed a witness to live who had seen them kill four people. [13]

Georgia Governor Ellis Arnall offered a reward of $10,000 for information, to no avail. For the first time, President Truman ordered the FBI to investigate the murders under federal civil rights law. They interviewed nearly 3000 people in their six-month investigation, and issued 100 subpoenas. The investigation received little cooperation: no one confessed, and suspected perpetrators were offered alibis for their whereabouts. The FBI found little physical evidence, and the prosecutor did not have sufficient grounds to indict anyone. [7] [9] The FBI agents reported that the farmers of Walton County were "extremely clannish, not well educated and highly sensitive to 'outside' criticism." [3] The black sharecroppers were described by the FBI as "frightened and even terrified" one man ran into a field in an effort to evade their questioning him. [3] When cornered, he said that he had been warned not to speak to the FBI or he would be lynched as well. [3]

Harrison claimed not to know any of the lynch mob. [3] The FBI agents heard allegations that Harrison was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and had bailed Malcom out of jail to turn him over to the lynch mob. [15] Harrison made contradictory statements as he changed his story, at one point saying he had been "directed" by someone whose name he claimed not to remember to use a less traveled road on the way home the police suspected that he may have been involved in plans for the lynching. [12]

None of the lynch mob wore masks, and Harrison's claims not to know any of them were widely disbelieved. Policeman Major William Spence told the press on 3 August 1946: "Harrison is either scared of being killed himself or he's lying in his teeth or both". [12] The assistant police chief of Monroe, Ed Williamson, told the FBI about a conversation he had overheard between Talmadge and George Hester, Barnette's brother. The FBI reported: "The opinion on Mr. Williamson's part was that this conversation between Talmadge and Hester probably resulted in the Blasingame District [the part of Walton County where the Hesters lived] going very definitely in the Talmadge column". [3] The FBI agent investigating the lynching characterized the allegation that Talmadge had led the lynch mob as "unbelievable", but he forwarded the statement to FBI director J.E. Hoover "as it may be of some possible future interest." [3]

Thurgood Marshall, legal counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), who monitored the FBI's investigation, wrote in a memo to NAACP's director, Walter White: "I have no faith in either Mr. Hoover or his investigators. and there is no use in my saying I do". [16] White issued two public telegrams to the U.S. Attorney General Tom Clark and to President Truman. [17] In the telegram to Clark, White said the Moore's Ford lynchings were ". the direct result of a conspiratorial campaign to violate the U.S. constitution by Eugene Talmadge and the Ku Klux Klan". [17] In his telegram to Truman, White said the lynchings at Moore's Ford were the latest case of "the outbreak of lawlessness which threatens not only minorities but democracy itself". [17] No one was brought to trial for the crimes.

In the Democratic primary, Talmadge won Walton County his opponent Carmichael won more popular votes overall, but Talmadge won more counties. Under the "county unit system" used in Georgia at the time, he won the nomination as Democratic candidate for governor in 1946. [3] The "county unit system", which gave equal weight to each county, was biased toward rural counties. The candidate who won the most counties won the primary. Carmichael won 313, 389 votes but only 146 counties, while Talmadge won 297, 245 votes and 242 counties, thus winning the primary. [18]

Talmadge died on 21 December 1946 of liver cirrhosis caused by his alcoholism. His body lay in state at the Georgia capitol, where the coffin was surrounded by wreaths of flowers left by well wishers one card read KKKK (Knights of the Ku Klux Klan). [19] In 1943, columnist Ralph McGill of the Atlanta Constitution reported that Talmadge was a member of the Klan and had been speaking at Klan events. When questioned by the media about it, Talmadge proudly admitted this and said he was sorry that the media had missed all the "fun" Klan rallies he had spoken at. [20]

U.S. District Judge T. Hoyt Davis [21] selected and charged a 23-man grand jury, which included two African Americans, to hear testimony in the case on December 2, 1946. [22] At the time Governor Ellis Arnall claimed "that 15 to 20 of the mob members are known by name." The case was presented to the jury by United States District Attorney John P. Cowart and John Kelly from the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice. [23] The judge "pointed out that federal courts have no jurisdiction over the offense of murder except under well defined conditions." [24]

Barnette Hester, the man allegedly stabbed by Roger Malcom, testified. He was followed by Harrison, the farmer who had employed the two couples, who testified for six hours. The following Monday was the fifth day of testimony. On that day Harrison's sons Loy Jr. and Talmadge testified. Additionally, B.H. Hester, the father of Barnette and George Hester, testified. Perry Dillard, Eugene Evans, Emmerson Farmer, and Ridden Farmer, who lived near the location of the four shooting murders, testified that day as well. The last to be questioned that day was FBI Agent George Dillard. [25]

On December 10, the sixth day of hearings, ten witnesses were heard. They were: Joe Parrish, Harrison's brother-in-law George Robert Hester and James Weldon Hester, brothers of Barnette Hester Grady Malcom, Weyman Fletcher Malcom, Cleonius Malcom, Levy Adcock, Willie Lou Head, and FBI Agent Dick Hunter. [26]

On the seventh day of testimony, six people were questioned. Among them were African Americans Mrs. Elizabeth Toler, Eugene White, Boysie Daniel. and Paul Brown. [27]

Monday's testimony was highlighted by the appearance before the grand jury of Mrs. Jesse Warwick. The wife of a Monroe minister, she testified to seeing men in at least two carloads gather on a roadside in the vicinity of Monroe at some point between the stabbing of Hester and the incident at Moore's Ford. That event was believed to have been a rehearsal for the lynching. The government intended to show planning, possibly with the knowledge of Walton county law officers and Harrison. Other witnesses that day were Monroe chief of Police Ben Dickerson Gene Sloan, a youth from the Georgia Boys' Training School at Milledgeville and Mrs. Moena Williams, mother of Dorothy Malcom, who said that Dorothy was killed on her twentieth birthday. [28]

George Alvin Adcock, a resident of Monroe, was indicted by the federal grand jury for perjury. He was accused of two counts of false testimony regarding his statements on December 11, 1946. The first count alleged he denied leaving his house the day of the crime. He supposedly visited the town of Monroe that day. The second count states that he denied visiting the scene of the crime on July 26. Sixteen witnesses were questioned that day, including Mrs. Powell Adcock. [29]

After hearing nearly three weeks of testimony, the grand jury was "unable to establish the identity of any persons guilty of violating the civil rights statute of the United States." [30]

On February 11, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, affirmed a lower court's ruling that the transcripts of the grand jury proceedings should be released. [31]

At about four o'clock on January 1, 1947, brothers James and Tom Verner walked into the municipal ice house, briefly speaking with plant manager Will Perry. When the pair walked to where Lamar Howard was sitting, Tom Verner slapped the cap of the young African American to the floor. James asked him, "What did you tell 'em down at Athens?" To which he replied that he knew nothing to tell them. They started to attack him. Howard's employer, Will Perry, allegedly suggested that the two "take him out in the back." [32]

The Verner brothers continued beating Howard while questioning him. The beating concluded after 10 or 15 minutes with no resistance from Howard, as he feared he would be killed. When the Verners stopped, Howard got to his car and drove home. U.S. Attorney John P. Cowart arrested the Verner brothers and charged them with "unlawfully injuring Golden Lamar Howard because of his having testified before a federal grand jury" and "conspiring to injure" him. The Verners' $10,000 bonds were signed by H.L. Peters of Walton County, who put up 316 acres (1.28 km 2 ) of land as security. [33] Howard had testified to a grand jury in the Moore's Ford lynchings, but the proceedings were supposed to be secret.

James Verner acknowledged he had beaten Howard until his fists were bloody. His brother Tom testified, as did other witnesses, who said that James Verner committed the crime for which he was charged. Despite the testimony, the jury deliberated for nearly two hours and rendered a verdict of not guilty. [34]

In 1992, Clinton Adams told the Federal Bureau of Investigation that he had been a witness to the murders at Moore's Ford Bridge. Only ten years old when he saw the lynchings, Adams had avoided talking about them, and had moved away for 45 years, he feared for his life. After extensive research, reporter Laura Wexler wrote a book about the case, Fire in a Canebrake: The Last Mass Lynching in America (2003). She said that Adams had "holes in his story." [35]

In 1992, The Atlanta Constitution reported Adams's story and the history of the unsolved lynchings, raising awareness about the murders. Five years later, the Oconee Enterprise, Walton Tribune, and the Athens Daily News also published accounts. With the renewed publicity, some people in the community decided to act rather than to continue silence about the case.

In 1997 Georgia citizens led by Richard "Rich" Rusk established the biracial Moore's Ford Memorial Committee to commemorate the lynching and work for racial reconciliation. They have conducted a number of activities, including restoration of cemeteries where the victims were buried, erecting tombstones at the previously unmarked graves, conducting education about the events, and setting up scholarships in the names of those who died. In 1998 they held a biracial memorial service on the anniversary of the attack.

They worked with the Georgia Historical Society to ensure a state historical marker was placed near the murder site. It was erected on U.S. Highway 78 in 1999, on the fifty-third anniversary of the incident. The marker, 2.4 miles (3.9 km) to the west, identifies the site as the location of the last unsolved mass lynching in America. Additionally, it recognizes the 1998 memorial service. It is believed to be the first highway marker to commemorate a lynching. [36] Also in 1999, the Memorial Committee arranged for a military memorial service to honor veteran George Dorsey on the anniversary of the lynching. [37]

In 2001 Gov. Roy Barnes officially reopened investigation into the case with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. By 2006, the FBI had reentered the case. It was among a dozen cold cases related to the civil rights era which the Department of Justice was investigating. In June 2008, as part of this, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and FBI searched an area at a farm home in Walton County near Gratis and collected material which they believed to be related to the lynching. [38] While the FBI questioned an 86-year-old man about the lynchings in 2015, it closed its investigation, unable to prosecute any suspect. [39] [1] In January 2018, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation officially closed the lynching investigation, ending the effort to bring the perpetrators of the lynching to justice. No one was ever charged or prosecuted in the case, which has become known as "America's last mass lynching". [40]

In 2007, the Associated Press reported on findings from more than 3700 pages of the previously closed FBI files, having gained access through an FOIA request. There was evidence suggesting that the lynching of Malcom was ordered or at least encouraged by former three-term governor Eugene Talmadge, overheard a day after the stabbing as having offered immunity for people taking care of the African American. He was in a highly competitive race for the 1946 Democratic primary for the governor's office it was held five days later and the county voted in his favor. He won the office in the general election as well, but died before inauguration. [3]

When the allegations about Talmadege were reported, Rich Rusk told a journalist:

"It would not surprise me if state officials at all levels were implicated, if not in the actual killings, at least in the cover-up that followed. The conspiracy of silence wasn't just the fault of the local farmers. It was the entire culture, from the top down.". [3]

Historian Robert Pratt said about the allegations of Talmadge's involvement:

"I'm not surprised. historians over the years have concluded the violently racist tone of his 1946 campaign may have been indirectly responsible for the violence that came at Moore's Ford. It's fair to say he's one of the most virulently racist governors the state has ever had." [3]

Since 2005, the Moore's Ford Memorial Committee has annually re-enacted the lynchings at Moore's Ford in July as a living memorial to the victims. This effort was initiated by Tyrone Brooks, a ciil rights activist and state legislator. In recent years, most of the participants have come from Atlanta, about an hour away. [41] Bob Caine, one of the white actors in the lynching reenactment, is a descendant of Leo Frank, a Jewish man lynched by a white vigilantes in 1915 after the governor of Georgia had commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment following his wrongful conviction of charges of rape and murder of a young local woman. [41]

Researcher Anthony Pitch, author of The Last Lynching: How a Gruesome Mass Murder Rocked a Small Georgia Town (2016), located the sealed grand jury testimony in the National Archives. He sued to have the records unsealed. Despite government opposition, a federal appeals court upheld his request. [42] The US Department of Justice under the Attorney General William Barr appealed that decision, maintaining that to open the testimony would undermine the confidentiality of a grand jury investigation. [15] U.S. law permits grand jury testimony to be unsealed in "exceptional circumstances".

Juliet Sorensen, a professor at Northwestern Law, argued in 2019:

“If this isn’t an exceptional circumstance, what is? It’s now 73 years in the past. Surely, no targets of the investigation are still living. I don’t believe that granting the release of the records in this case will open the door to courts ordering grand jury record disclosures willy-nilly.” [15]

Atanya L. Hayes, the granddaughter of the Malcoms, argued: “It made me really disappointed in our judicial system and FBI and all the people who were supposed to protect us. You should not be able to enjoy that good reputation. Dead or alive, good or bad, the truth needs to be known". [15] On 27 March 2020, an appeals court in Atlanta ruled in favor of the federal government and ordered the records sealed permanently. [43]

In an editorial on 26 April 2020, the Toledo Blade condemned the 8-3 decision of the appeals court, stating:

"There is no good reason to keep the grand jury transcripts and other evidence about the lynching sealed. The courts should make this information available to the public. The blood of the victims calls out for disclosure. Their suffering must not be forgotten. If disclosure causes political or personal reputations to suffer, so be it." [44]


For nearly three decades, Tom Cavanagh has been dead certain police were wrong when they pinned the 13 Boston Strangler murders on Albert DeSalvo.

Everybody knows DeSalvo, a maintenence man with a long history of sex offenses, was the Boston Strangler -- that's the way it was in the movie, right?

Maybe that's the way it was.

Cavanagh, a former New York City detective now retired in Sea Ranch Lakes, has long thought two men were responsible for the murders that terrorized Boston during the early 1960s. And he is convinced that he had one of them in his hands 29 years ago.

Cavanagh had cajoled a New Englander named Charles Edward Terry into confessing to the 1963 strangulation of a New York woman. The crime scene was strikingly similar to at least four of the Boston stranglings, and Terry had been in Boston when the women were killed.

Boston police were not interested.

After speculation flared last fall that DeSalvo was not the Boston Strangler after all, Cavanagh decided to prove he was right.

He called some other retired detectives who he fondly describes as the "Over the Hill Gang" and told them it was time to go back to work.

Cavanagh's kitchen and living room have become command central. The Over the Hill Gang has pored over 29-year-old court and police evidence. A Boston map, dotted with color-coded pins for the stranglings, has dominated the living room wall for seven months.

Why does he care, nearly three decades later, when the Boston Strangler is fading into folklore and Cavanagh is comfortably retired?

Call it a concept of justice.

Cavanagh's refusal to convict the wrong man in one of Manhattan's more sensational murders inspired the TV series Kojak. After he retired, he helped his son, Brian, a Broward County prosecutor, crack a murder case in 1992 in which a Broward man was wrongly indicted for murder.

"There's something in a special breed of detective like my dad that must see a case through the right way," said Brian Cavanagh, who has helped his father dig up evidence on Terry. "This case has bothered him for 29 years, and now he's determined to try to resolve it."


In June of 1962, John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been in the White House for 18 months John Glenn had just made history as the first American to orbit the Earth and the civil rights movement was gaining strength. It was a more innocent and hopeful time.

"Serial killer" was not a familiar term.

In June of 1962, the stranglings began in Boston.

Police found Anna Slesers, 55, a Latvian immigrant, dead on the floor of her apartment kitchen on June 14. Her blue bathrobe belt had been tied in a large bow around her neck.

Over the next two months, five more women, the youngest 65, the oldest 85, were strangled in and around Boston.

Each woman's neck was decorated with a garish bow of nylons or undergarments.

The killer had not forced his way into the apartments. The apartments were ransacked, but nothing was stolen.

Boston residents, especially women, were terrified. They bought dogs, guns and extra locks for their doors at a record pace. Few ventured out after dark. Every man seemed suspect. Police had no leads.

The next seven murders baffled police even further. Three victims were in their 20s, one was 19. The killer, it seemed, had switched from older women to young ones.

Other differences were apparent. The older women had been molested but not raped. Their bodies were posed in grotesque sexual positions each was molested with an object after death.

Most of the younger victims had been raped, and few of their bodies were posed.

Dr. Ames Robey, former director of Bridgewater State Hospital, was on a team of psychiatrists asked to come up with a profile of the Strangler.

"The details in the two sets of murders between the younger and older women weren't alike," Robey said. "We believed it was two different killers. There was a lot of speculation that the latter, younger victims were killed by a copycat."

By November 1963, a dozen women had been strangled in the Boston area. The pressure on police was immense, said John Donovan, chief of homicide at the time.

"It was rough," Donovan said. "There were times you'd almost want to give up and get out."

In January 1964, Mary Sullivan, 19, was found strangled in her bed, a red scarf and a pair of hose tied around her neck.

The tension was fed by a run of sex crimes that stopped short of murder.

In November 1964, dozens of women from Massachusetts and neighboring states identified a maintenance worker named Albert DeSalvo as "The Green Man," a man who wore a green uniform when he broke into their apartments and molested them.

The Green Man's victims were young and attractive.

On Feb. 4, 1965, a judge ruled DeSalvo incompetent to stand trial on sexual assault charges and sent him to Bridgewater, the state hospital for the criminally insane.

There, DeSalvo met George Nassar, a two-time killer who was awaiting the formalities that would put him back in prison for good.

Nassar's lawyer was an up-and-coming defense attorney in his 30s with a knack for high-publicity cases: F. Lee Bailey.

Before long, Nassar told Bailey that DeSalvo had hinted he was the Boston Strangler and wanted to see a lawyer.

Bailey talked to DeSalvo on March 4.

"Albert DeSalvo asked me, 'If a fellow were the Strangler, could he write a book about it and make some money?"' said Bailey, who has offices in West Palm Beach and Boston.

Bailey told Donovan that he might have the Strangler.

In the next few days, Bailey became DeSalvo's attorney and taped an interview during which DeSalvo confessed to all 13 stranglings. The tapes were given to police but with a caveat -- the confession could not be used against DeSalvo in court.

DeSalvo was sentenced to life in prison for robbery and rape he was never charged with any of the stranglings. Police had no evidence except his confessions, which they had agreed could not be used in court.

But the stranglings had stopped, and the panic subsided.

Robey, who had observed DeSalvo at Bridgewater for several months, was convinced police were pinning the stranglings on the wrong man. His concerns went unheeded.

Robey has long thought that Bailey's other client, Nassar, may have committed some of the stranglings and fed the details to DeSalvo.

"Nassar and DeSalvo spent hours talking together at Bridgewater," Robey said. "If anyone came near, they would always hush up."

That theory got a tantalizing endorsement in 1968, Robey said, from George Harrison, an inmate who was with DeSalvo during a brief escape from Bridgewater.

Harrison said he had overheard up to 20 conversations between Nassar and DeSalvo in which Nassar told DeSalvo about the stranglings.

"Nassar fit the profile of the killer of the younger women a lot more than DeSalvo ever did," Robey said.

Nassar, imprisoned for life at Norfolk State Prison in Massachusetts for murder, denies being the Strangler.

Bailey scoffs at the possibility Nassar was the killer.

"You can speculate all you want, but no one has come up with a stronger case than the one police had against Albert," he said.

Except, maybe, Tom Cavanagh.


Cavanagh put Charles Edward Terry away for a New York killing that was remarkably similar to the first Boston stranglings.

"There's no doubt in my mind if they had pursued Terry they would have had the man who killed the first five older women," Cavanagh said. "He had the history of rapes and assaults. He lived in Boston during the weekends of the first five murders and then heads to New York. What better place for new victims than the big city?"

Cavanagh interrogated Terry in June 1963, a few days after a maid in a Times Square hotel found Zenovia Clegg, 62, strangled in her hotel bed. A scarf was tied around her neck in a large decorative bow, and her body had been sexually posed. A pear was placed on the bed next to her right leg.

Terry told Cavanagh that he killed Clegg because she laughed at his impotence.

Psychiatrists had speculated that the Boston Strangler was an impotent man with homosexual tendencies.

Noting the similarities between the slaying of Clegg in New York and the stranglings of the elderly women in Boston, Cavanagh asked Terry if he had ever been to Boston. At first Terry said no. He later admitted spending some time in Boston.

Cavanagh wanted to continue the interrogation but was ordered to stop until his supervisors could tape Terry's confession to the New York strangling.

Boston police were told of the New York strangling, and within hours homicide chief Donovan was on his way to New York.

Donovan said similarities between Clegg's slaying and the Strangler cases made Terry a suspect in at least four of the Boston killings, The New York Daily News reported. The flowing bow around Clegg's neck, the way the body was posed, her age, the way the room was ransacked, all mirrored the crime scenes of the elderly women strangled in Boston.

Terry refused to talk to Donovan.

Before Donovan returned home, he had dinner with a New York author, Bill Heinz. Later, Heinz told Cavanagh it was doubtful Boston police would pursue Terry.

"Heinz told me Donovan said they weren't going to let us get the glory for the Strangler case," Cavanagh said. "Here we had one strangling and solved it. Boston had 13, and they couldn't arrest anyone. The press would have crucified them if they said New York police got the Strangler."


Cavanagh and his New York detectives were convinced Terry had strangled the elderly women in Boston, at the very least. Detectives James Macken and James Le Curlo went to Boston and found that Terry had stayed at two rooming houses within blocks of some of the slayings.

Then the Boston police chased them out of town.

"Boston police told them they were out of their jurisdiction," Cavanagh said.

Donovan says he only vaguely remembers Terry. It is ludicrous, he said, to think he or his officers would try to thwart the New York police.

"That's rubbish," said Donovan, 77. "If anyone offered us a good suspect, we checked it out."

Dr. John Spencer, a Fort Lauderdale psychiatrist who is an expert in sex crimes and sex-related killings, reviewed police photographs taken in Clegg's hotel room.

"There is no way that Clegg was Terry's first murder," Spencer said. "If it's your first killing, you're so pumped up on adrenaline and scared that you're not going to stick around and do anything, much less decorate the body."

Bridgewater Hospital's Robey also reviewed the Clegg photos and court records documenting Terry's criminal history and troubled childhood.

"It's hard to tell after all these years," Robey said. "But I'm still convinced there were two killers. And you certainly can't rule Terry out for the first of these, the older women."


Terry grew up in Maine, dropped out of school and joined the Marines when he was 17. He spent time in the brig for discipline problems and later in federal prison for stealing a car. Terry said he was repeatedly raped by other inmates.

In April 1951, three months after returning home from prison, Terry, then 21, assaulted two women on the same evening and raped one of them. He was sent back to prison for eight years.

He was also a suspect in several sexual assaults in nearby communities and in the slaying of a Brunswick, Maine, woman, Shirley Coolen, 24, who was strangled with her scarf. Her slaying was never solved.

When Terry was released from prison again, he married. His wife divorced him after he assaulted another Maine woman in her 50s, breaking her jaw and cutting her scalp.

Psychiatrists analyzed Terry as an intelligent psychopath and sexual deviant who enjoyed sadistic sexual acts.

"Terry appears to be an aggressive, emotionally conflicted, unstable and immature individual with unresolved sexual conflicts," one psychiatric report said. "He discusses his involvement in a detached manner without apparent guilt feelings or expressions of remorse. He admits inability to control rage reactions to real or imagined affronts, particularly while under the influence of intoxicants."

Terry was convicted for the New York strangling in 1963 and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to life in 1972.

"I lived with this case for 29 years," Cavanagh said. "I thought of it from time to time and wondered how we could have gotten Boston to follow up on Terry."


In 1968, after Albert DeSalvo began to claim through his new attorney, Thomas Troy, that he was not the Boston Strangler, Charles Terry wrote Bailey a letter.

Bailey, who said he remembered Terry was at one time a suspect, could not recall Terry's letter.

Prison records show only that the letter was sent, not what it said.

Cavanagh wonders why Terry wrote to Bailey: "Could he have been writing him about the Boston stranglings?"

Cavanagh will never know. Terry died in Attica prison of lung cancer on May 13, 1981.

DeSalvo, Boston Strangler to the world, also is dead.

In the fall of 1973, DeSalvo contacted Robey, who never thought DeSalvo was the Strangler, and asked Robey to visit him at Walpole State Prison.

"He said he wanted to tell me the real story about the Boston stranglings," Robey said.

On Nov. 25, the day before Robey was to visit DeSalvo, DeSalvo was stabbed to death in his cell. Three inmates were charged with the killing their two trials ended in hung juries.

Cavanagh will forever wish he had the chance to talk to Terry more on that June 1963 evening, when Terry confessed to the Clegg slaying.

"I think I could have gotten him to talk about Boston, but now it's forever lost," Cavanagh said. "But, before God, I would say Terry was guilty of strangling at least the first four older women in Boston.

"And no one can prove we're wrong."

Slayings attributed to the Boston Strangler:

Anna Slesers, 55 June 14, 1962

Mary Mullen, 85 June 28, 1962

Nina Nichols, 68 June 30, 1962

Helen Blake, 65 June 30, 1962

Jane Sullivan, 67 Aug. 20, 1962

Sophie Clark, 20 Dec. 5, 1962

Patricia Bissette, 23 Dec. 31, 1962

Mary Brown, 69 March 9, 1963

Beverly Samans, 23 May 6, 1963

Evelyn Corbin, 58 Sept. 8, 1963

Joann Graff, 23 Nov. 23, 1963

Mary Sullivan, 19 Jan. 4, 1964

Figures in the Boston Strangler investigation:

Born May 26, 1930. Raised in Waterville, Maine. Dropped out of high school in 10th grade to join Marines. Spent three years in prison for car theft, said he was gang-raped repeatedly. Served prison sentences for rape, assault and attempted rape. Convicted of first-degree murder in June 6, 1963, death of woman in New York hotel. Was sentenced to death but sentence was later commuted to life in prison. Died of lung cancer at Attica prison, New York, on May 13, 1981.

Born in 1931. Grew up in Chelsea, Mass. He, his five siblings and their mother were repeatedly beaten by DeSalvo's father, who often brought prostitutes to his home. Was sent to reform school at age 12 for breaking into a house. Imprisoned 11 months after confessing to being "Measuring Man," a fake model agency representative who persuaded dozens of Boston-area women to let him take their measurements. Arrested in November 1964 as the "Green Man," who wore a green uniform while sexually molesting hundreds of women in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut. Was ruled incompetent to stand trial and committed to Bridgewater State Hospital. While there, he talked about Strangler cases with lawyer F. Lee Bailey, who passed information to police. Confessed to the 13 Boston Strangler murders. Convicted on molestation charges and sentenced to life in prison. Stabbed to death in Walpole State Prison in November 1973.

Born in June 1932 in Lawrence, Mass. Worked odd jobs, including hospital attendant. Killed Lawrence, Mass., shopkeeper during a 1948 robbery and was sentenced to life in prison at age 17. Released on parole in 1961. Stabbed a gas station attendant during a robbery in Andover, Mass., on Sept. 29, 1964. Sent to Bridgewater State Hospital for observation. There, he met Albert DeSalvo and later told lawyer Bailey he thought he knew the identity of the Boston Strangler. Two women -- one who survived what was thought to be a Strangler attack, and a neighbor of a Strangler victim -- visited Bridgewater to look at both DeSalvo and Nassar. The women did not recognize DeSalvo but said Nassar looked familiar. Convicted of first-degree murder for the Andover killing on June 26, 1965. Remains at Norfolk state prison. Denies he was the Strangler.

A Plan to Take the George Floyd Case to the U.N. Highlights a Decades-Old Tension Between Civil Rights and Human Rights

A s people across the globe take to the streets to demand justice in the wake of George Floyd&rsquos killing, the case against the four now-former Minneapolis police officers involved in his death has already begun: Derek Chauvin, the white officer who pressed his knee to Floyd&rsquos neck for nearly nine minutes, has been charged with second-degree murder, and the three other officers present with aiding and abetting. But lawyers representing the Floyd family, S. Lee Merritt and Benjamin Crump, aren&rsquot looking only to the U.S. criminal-justice system. They have announced that they also plan to take the matter to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Merritt and Crump also represent the families of two other African Americans who deaths have shocked the public in recent weeks&mdashBreonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery&mdashand have in the past worked on other high-profile homicide cases involving police brutality, such as Eric Garner and Michael Brown. And this isn&rsquot the first time their clients have gone to the U.N.: in 2014, Michael Brown&rsquos parents gave heart-wrenching testimony before the United Nations Committee Against Torture, in Geneva. That same year, the office of the Commissioner on Human Rights announced that the Garner and Brown cases &ldquohave added to our existing concerns over the longstanding prevalence of racial discrimination faced by African-Americans, particularly in relation to access to justice and discriminatory police practices.&rdquo

As Merritt and Crump approach the U.N., the involvement of the international community draws attention to a tension that has existed for more than half a century within the movement for African American rights. For much of the history of the Black Freedom Struggle in the United States, civic leaders and politicians used the term civil rights to characterize the objective of the movement to gain equal rights in this country the period to which the current moment has been compared is known as the civil rights movement. But not everyone at that time thought that civil rights were the goal.

Malcolm X &mdash who abandoned the philosophy of Black Nationalism in favor of the more inclusive Internationalism, a philosophy that aimed to encourage allyship with oppressed people globally &mdash admonished black Americans in the mid-1960s to abandon the domestic agenda for civil rights in favor of an international agenda for human rights. In fact, this effort has been called the “unfinished work of Malcolm X,” which came to a tragic halt when he was assassinated on Feb. 21, 1965. The problem with civil rights, Malcolm argued, was that such a framing defined the matter as a domestic issue, focused on guaranteeing African Americans equal access to the rights of U.S. citizens. In his view, that limited the potential of the movement and left black people at the mercy of a government that had ignored its pleas for equality since the post-Civil War era.

Malcolm X was no stranger to police brutality. In Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, Manning Marable recalls a notorious incident involving Los Angeles police and the Nation of Islam (NOI) in 1962, which reads like a story ripped from today&rsquos headlines. On April 27, 1962, while members of the Nation were delivering clothes from the dry cleaner to their mosque, two white police officers who were on a stake-out approached the men, believing the clothes were stolen. The details are murky on what followed. After some pushing and shoving and a call for back up, which bought at least 70 additional officers to the scene, the mosque was raided. What is clear is that 15 minutes later when the dust was settled, &ldquoseven Muslims were shot,&rdquo Marable explains. They included Ronald Stokes, a Korean War vet who was fatally shot from behind while trying to surrender. Less than a month later, Malcolm X delivered a blistering speech against L.A. city officials for their willingness to tolerate police brutality.

By 1964, Malcolm X had split with his spiritual mentor Elijah Muhammad and NOI to launch what he called the Organization of Afro-American Unity, with a rallying cry for black people to set their differences aside for the common goal of Black Liberation. In his classic speech “The Ballot or the Bullet&rdquo&mdashdelivered twice, on April 3 and 12, 1964, less than a year before he was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem&mdashhe channeled the sentiments of Revolutionary War patriot and slave owner Patrick Henry who in 1775, ironically, cried, &ldquogive me liberty or give me death.&rdquo Malcolm echoed these sentiments nearly 200 years later when he stated in the second iteration of the speech, &ldquoIt&rsquos the ballot or the bullet. It’s liberty or it’s death. It&rsquos freedom for everybody or freedom for nobody.&rdquo

At the conclusion of this speech, Malcolm admonished black Americans to approach their freedom struggle from an international viewpoint, which would reframe the struggle as one not for civil rights but human rights, for which they would be entitled to seek the aid of the international community. &ldquoWhen you expand the civil-rights struggle to the level of human rights,&rdquo he stated on April 3, &ldquoyou can then take the case of the black man in this country before the nations in the U.N.&rdquo He also explained how he saw the difference between civil rights and human rights:

You can take Uncle Sam before a world court. But the only level you can do it on is the level of human rights. Civil rights keeps you under his restrictions, under his jurisdiction. Civil rights keeps you in his pocket. Civil rights means you’re asking Uncle Sam to treat you right. Human rights are something you were born with. Human rights are your God-given rights. Human rights are the rights that are recognized by all nations of this earth. And any time anyone violates your human rights, you can take them to the world court.

His focus on human rights, however, didn&rsquot mean he had given up on the possibility of winning civil equality within the United States. In fact, Malcolm believed that, while revolutions have historically been bloody, the U. S. was uniquely positioned for a revolution devoid of bloodshed, &ldquo[Today],&rdquo he stated, &ldquothis country can become involved in a revolution that won&rsquot take bloodshed. All she&rsquos got to do is give the black man in this country everything that’s due him, everything.&rdquo

Malcolm X, whose political philosophy of freedom was underscored by the mantra &ldquoby any means necessary,&rdquo called for a revolution that would overthrow the system of white supremacy rather than integrate blacks into it. Even so, like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm believed that such a revolution could be achieved through nonviolent means. While he believed black people had a right to defend themselves if attacked, he counseled white America to listen to King rather than face the alternative.

Just the month before this speech, Malcolm X and Dr, Martin Luther King Jr. had met for the first and only time. The two men were on Capitol Hill to attend a senate hearing on school segregation and employment discrimination. Malcolm, who had attempted on several occasions to reach out to King and had conversed extensively with King&rsquos wife Coretta, approached the Southern minister with his hand outstretched. While cameras flashed as the two men greeted each other, Malcolm expressed his desire to be more involved with King&rsquos movement. &ldquoI am throwing myself into the heart of the civil rights struggle,&rdquo he told King. He clarified his intent further in his speech the following month: &ldquoWe have injected ourselves into the civil rights struggle,&rdquo he stated, &ldquoand we intend to expand it from the level of civil rights to the level of human rights.&rdquo

Today, as black America is still pressed under the weight of white supremacy and violence, including extrajudicial killings, that struggle continues. With a new generation embracing Malcolm X&rsquos idea that human rights is the path to black liberation, the work of expanding the struggle continues too.

The Murder of Emmett Till

The murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 brought nationwide attention to the racial violence and injustice prevalent in Mississippi. While visiting his relatives in Mississippi, Till went to the Bryant store with his cousins, and may have whistled at Carolyn Bryant. Her husband, Roy Bryant, and brother-in-law, J.W. Milam, kidnapped and brutally murdered Till, dumping his body in the Tallahatchie River. The newspaper coverage and murder trial galvanized a generation of young African Americans to join the Civil Rights Movement out of fear that such an incident could happen to friends, family, or even themselves. Many interviewees in the Civil Rights History Project remember how this case deeply affected their lives.

Two of Emmett Till&rsquos cousins, Wheeler Parker and Simeon Wright, witnessed Till&rsquos kidnapping on the night of August 28, 1955 at the home of Moses Wright. They both describe their family&rsquos background in Mississippi and Chicago, the incident at Bryant&rsquos store, and the terror they felt when Bryant and Milan entered their home and took Till. Parker describes the funeral in Chicago, which drew thousands of people: &ldquoThe solemn atmosphere there, you know, it&rsquos just – it&rsquos just unbelievable, I guess you could say. The air was filled with just, I guess, unbelief and how could it happen to a kid? People just felt helpless.&rdquo

Two journalists, Moses Newson and Simeon Booker, were assigned to cover the murder for the Tri-State Defender and JET, respectively. Booker attended the funeral with photographer David Jackson, who took the famous image of Till in the coffin. In this joint interview, Booker explains: &ldquoJET&rsquos circulation just took off when they ran the picture. They had to reprint, the first time they ever reprinted JET magazine. And there was a lot of interest in that case. And the entire black community was becoming aware of the need to do something about it.&rdquo The two journalists also covered the trial and were instrumental in helping to find some key witnesses. Bryant and Milam were acquitted, however, which outraged the African American community nationwide.

African American children and teenagers, particularly those in the South, were shocked by the photographs in JET and the outcome of the trial. Sisters Joyce and Dorie Ladner, who grew up in Mississippi, remember keeping a scrapbook of every article about Till and their fear that their brothers could be killed too. Dorie Ladner was inspired to learn more about the law after Bryant and Milam were acquitted: &ldquoThat&rsquos where the light bulb went off: Why aren&rsquot they being punished? And that&rsquos when I went on my quest to try to understand the whole legal system and equal rights and justice under the law.&rdquo Joyce Ladner discusses how she coined the term, &ldquoEmmett Till Generation,&rdquo which she uses to describe the African American baby boomers in the South who were inspired by Till&rsquos murder to join a burgeoning movement of mass meetings, sit-ins, and marches to demand their equal treatment under the law.

Cleveland Sellers was 11 years old when he learned about Emmett Till through JET. He remembers, &ldquoI was devastated by the fact that Emmett could have been me or any other black kid around that same age. And so, I related to that very quickly. And we had discussions in our class about Emmett Till. I had a cover of the JET, took it to school. Some other students had the same thing. And so, we had rational discussions about it. And, you know, the question comes up: How do you address that? And I think, for us, it was projected out, that that would be our destiny to try to find remedies to a society that would allow that to happen, would condone that, and would actually free those who were responsible for that murder. And I think that that was a way in which we actually got away from revenge and hatred and those kinds of things. We talked about how we were going to use Emmett Till to build on, that we would rectify in our work and in our effort the dastardly tragedy that happened to Emmett Till.&rdquo

The Library of Congress holds many other online collection items related to Emmett Till, including photographs of him, his family, his funeral, and the murder trial federal resolutions and bills including the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007 a press release issued by the NAACP the day after Till&rsquos body was found and a telegram from Paul Robeson expressing his outrage at the acquittal of Till&rsquos murderers.

The American Folklife Center in collaboration with Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture