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Healing Old Wounds


The murders of blacks -- and official reluctance to prosecute cases -- have long been a staple of Southern life. Now, however, throughout the region, there is a surging interest in bringing closure to racially motivated murder cases. Examples:

• In Philadelphia, MS, Klansman Edgar Ray "Preacher" Killen was convicted last June for the 1964 murders of three young civil rights workers, Mickey Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney. But at least nine others complicit in the crime are still alive. Presumably, they could be tried on the same evidence that convicted Killen, but the Mississippi attorney general's office won't say if more indictments are planned.

• In May 2004, the FBI and Mississippi authorities reopened the Emmett Till case. Although Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, both dead, claimed they were the only participants in the crime, it is believed that several still-living people participated as accessories, including Bryant's wife, Carolyn.

• In Greensboro, NC, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has attracted international attention for probing the causes of the 1979 "Greensboro Massacre," in which KKK and American Nazi Party members shot and killed five people and wounded ten. Local TV news crews taped the shootings, but no convictions resulted after two criminal trials with all-white juries. A federal civil trial found Klansmen, Nazis and members of the city police department liable for one death. The Greensboro City Council voted 6-3 not to endorse the GTRC's work, but the commission still is expected this year to recommend ways the city can heal racial wounds.

• Black political leaders in Georgia, led by state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, have called for a renewed investigation of the 1946 Moore's Ford Bridge murders of two young black couples, George and Mae Murray Dorsey and Roger and Dorothy Malcolm. At least two men believed to have been members of the lynch mob are still alive and live near the scene of the crime, which included cutting an unborn baby out of Mae Dorsey. "Closing these cases is absolutely necessary to cleanse the South of the remaining remnants of white supremacists, the Klan, the neo-Nazis," Brooks says.

There's no doubt the South has changed since 1955. In recent years, there have been successful prosecutions of race killers. Bowers was convicted in 1998 for the 1966 firebomb killing of Hattiesburg NAACP activist Vernon Dahmer. After two mistrials in the 1960s, Byron De La Beckwith was convicted in 1994 for the 1963 shooting of Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers. And three men have been convicted for the bombing of Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963, which killed four young girls.

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