Families Still Wait for Justice in Unsolved Civil Rights Murders

Harry T. Moore and Harriette V. Moore were mortally wounded in their home in Mims, Florida, on Christmas Day 1951. (Courtesy photo)
Evangeline Moore is seeking justice for her parents 63 years after their murders. (Courtesy photo)
Evangeline Moore is seeking justice for her parents 63 years after their murders. (Courtesy photo)
by Avis Thomas-Lester
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

Juanita Evangeline Moore hates Christmas.

It was on Christmas night, in 1951, when her civil rights activist father, Harry T. Moore, and mother, Harriette V. Moore, were mortally wounded when a bomb placed by racists exploded under their Mims, Florida, home. Sixty-three years later, Moore has given up hope that her parents will receive justice. She waited patiently as local law enforcement claimed to investigate the case immediately after the brutal attack. She kept an open mind in the wake of several inquiries over the years.

She even grew hopeful a few years ago when she learned that the FBI had reopened the case under the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Act of 2007. She was praying that four men who were long suspected in the killings would be formally named as suspects when she received a letter from the FBI telling her that investigators had been unable to find anything that would help them to definitively identify the culprits.

“I haven’t heard from them since. I guess I will never have closure,” said Moore, of New Carrollton, Maryland.

Moore, 84, is among hundreds of loved ones of men, women and children killed in decades-old civil rights cases who still yearn to have someone held accountable for the killings.

In 2007, at the urging of civil rights activists, Congress passed the Till Act, which was named for 14-year-old Emmett Till, a Chicago youth who, in 1955, was brutalized and killed by racists in Money, Mississippi, after he whistled at a white woman.

At a panel discussion Dec. 9 at the National Press Club in Northwest, relatives of civil rights murder victims described their efforts to see done for their loved ones. The event was sponsored by the Cold Case Justice Initiative of the Syracuse University College of Law, one of a handful of university-based programs where law students investigate civil rights murders.

“For years, I didn’t know anything about what happened. I guess my mom didn’t want us to know what went on because we still live in that town,” said Darlene Morris-Newbill, 41, whose great grandfather, Frank Morris, died after he was set on fire by racists in Ferriday, Louisiana, in 1964. The case was investigated by the CCJI and turned its research over to the Department of Justice, which said it was unable to determine or prosecute a culprit.

Speakers urged Congress to extend the Till Act, which is set to expire in 2017. Under the act, Congress appropriated funding to the DOJ to investigate unsolved civil rights murder cases and, whenever possible, to bring killers to justice.

The panel included Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas); Emmett’s cousin, Thelma Edwards, who still remembers the night he was snatched from her parent’s home at gunpoint; Paul Delaney, a former editor at the New York Times who wrote extensively about civil rights murders; and Paula Johnson and Janis McDonald, the Syracuse law professors who co-direct the CCJI.

Jackson-Lee, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, which pushed to bring the act to fruition, compared the families’ fight for justice to those of loved ones seeking justice in recent cases, such as the killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, by George Zimmerman, and the killings of Sean Bell, Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of police.

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