The Cold Case Justice Initiative (CCJI) congratulates Thomas Moore and Thelma Collins, whose pursuit of justice on behalf of their 19-year-old brothers Charles Edward Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee culminated in a settlement with the Franklin County, Mississippi government on June 21, 2010. We also congratulate Professor Margaret Burnham, her co-counsel and students at the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Program at Northeastern University Law School (CRRJ)(www.neu.edu/crrj), who represented the families in this legal victory. The Moore and Dee surviving family members filed a civil lawsuit against Franklin County in 2008 after Klan member James Ford Seale was convicted in a federal criminal trial for his role in the youths’ deaths. The family members’ civil lawsuit alleged collusion between Franklin County law enforcement and other government officials and the Ku Klux Klan. The family members and their attorneys argued that this collusion resulted in under-enforcement and lack of prosecution against the perpetrators of violence against Black citizens, thereby allowing the Klan to commit racial violence with impunity.
Charles Moore and Henry Dee were 19-years-old when they were abducted and tortured by members of the Ku Klux Klan on May 2, 1964, as they hitchhiked outside the small town of Meadville, Mississippi. Klan members took the young Black men to the Homochitto National Forest and tortured them. While they were still alive, they were taken into Louisiana and thrown into the Mississippi River, where they were left to drown. Dee and Moore’s remains were found during the search for the bodies of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, the three civil rights workers who were killed by Klan members during Freedom Summer, 1964. After a truncated FBI search, pursuit of the murderers of Dee and Moore was dropped by local and federal authorities.
In 2005, Thomas Moore, the older brother of Charles Moore, conducted his own investigation and upon finding that James Ford Seale, one of the perpetrators of his brother and Dee’s killings was still alive, urged the Department of Justice to reopen an investigation in the case. In 2007, James Ford Seale was convicted of kidnapping and conspiracy leading to the murders of Charles Moore and Henry Dee. He currently serves three life sentences for his role in their deaths.
As Professor Burnham noted in her statement after the settlement, “This was an historic undertaking. To my knowledge, this suit is the only one of its kind to have reached settlement. What we sought to prove was common knowledge at the time – that these crimes could not have persisted without support of local officials. The result we achieved makes clear that justice delayed does not always mean justice denied. There is no statute of limitations on murder, no expiration date on moral obligation, and there should be no impunity for human rights violators.”Significantly, Professor Burnham also indicated that “It was during the course of Seale’s criminal trial that information surfaced that formed the basis for the civil case.” Indeed, CCJI provided recently discovered documents demonstrating that certain Franklin County officials at the time were members of the Ku Klux Klan. These documents were vital to CRRJ’s civil case. While the Franklin County government did not admit guilt as part of this settlement, it nevertheless represents an acknowledgement that local and federal law enforcement must make the words “equal justice under law” a meaningful reality for all, regardless of race or other background. The Cold Case Justice Initiative works to ensure that many more perpetrators of outstanding unresolved civil rights era racially-motivated murders will be brought before the criminal justice system. We must continue to insist upon accountability for those who committed these civil rights era atrocities in the criminal courts, as well as in the civil justice system. The Cold Case Justice Initiative is part of these ongoing struggles for justice, and we join the families of those who were slain, the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Program, and all others who believe that it is never too late for justice.