Accessibility links

US Renews Effort  to Solve Civil Rights Era Murder Cases

The U.S government is forming a partnership with some prominent civil rights groups to identify and investigate unsolved murders committed during the U.S. civil rights era of the 1950's and 1960's. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

The partnership involves the Justice Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and civil rights groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The announcement came at a Washington news conference where Attorney General Alberto Gonzales issued a warning to those who have so far escaped prosecution and punishment for murder and civil rights violations perpetrated decades ago. "And to those individuals who committed these crimes and who have lived with their guilty consciences for these many years, our message should be clear. You have not gotten away with anything. We are still on your trail," he said.

FBI Director Robert Mueller says federal investigators are considering about 100 cases at the outset, and have reopened 10 to 12 cases that involve suspicious deaths from decades ago.

Mueller says he cannot guarantee all the cases will be prosecuted or will result in convictions. But he says the government, with help from the civil rights groups, is determined to reopen cases that have been ignored for years. "In too many instances, the truth has been hidden for too long. Many individuals have, quite literally, gotten away with murder. We cannot turn back the clock. We cannot right these wrongs. But we can bring a measure of justice to those who remain. Justice has been delayed, but we are determined that justice will not be denied. We will do everything we can to close these cases and to close this dark chapter in our nation's history," he said.

The civil rights groups involved in the effort will share information and leads about unsolved murder cases with the government. Organization leaders are urging witnesses who have remained silent for decades to come forward if they have information regarding a murder or other crime from the civil rights era.

Stephanie Jones of the National Urban League says the cooperative effort is an important step in the continuing process of racial healing in the United States. "The history of lynchings and racial violence in this country has left a stain on the fabric of our country. And it is up to all of us to eradicate that stain and one of the ways to do it is to work together to bring justice, both for those who have been harmed by this and those who have perpetrated the harm," she said.

Federal and state prosecutors have had success in recent years in obtaining convictions for murder and civil rights violations in cases that had remained unsolved for years.

In January, a 71-year-old former member of the racist Ku Klux Klan was charged in connection with the kidnapping and murder of two African-American men in 1964.