Photo credits: Jet Magazine
Despite the US Justice Department’s decision to close its investigation into the 66-year-old murder of Emmett Till, investigators are still investigating at least 20 similar civil rights cold cases, including the police killings of 13 Black males in three southern states decades ago.
According to the department’s most recent report to Congress, it is investigating the shooting deaths of six people by police in 1970 during a racial revolt in Augusta, Georgia. After a Black juvenile was bludgeoned to death inside the county jail, violence engulfed the city best known for hosting golf’s Masters Tournament.
The FBI is also investigating the murders of seven more Black men who were involved in student protests in South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. According to the narrative, authorities are looking into the deaths of seven other individuals in Pennsylvania, including a small child.
Several of these killings included suspects who had previously been prosecuted and acquitted, making prosecution on identical charges very difficult. In centuries of instances, the hunt for responsibility is virtually always impeded by fading memories, missing evidence, and the burial of probable informants.
Still, in Georgia, the leader of a group formed to tell the story of the “Augusta Six” — John Bennett, Sammie L. McCullough, Charlie Mack Murphy, James Stokes, Mack Wilson, and William Wright Jr. — wishes for some measure of justice for the victims’ families, even if it does not take the form of a criminal conviction.
Following the savage death of 16-year-old Charles Oatman, while he was being held in jail, it was estimated that up to 3,000 people participated in rallies and rioting in Augusta. Frustration at his assassination, along with years of complaints about racial injustice, erupted in riots that destroyed an amazing $1 million worth of property over a vast territory.
According to authorities, six Black males were murdered by police rounds after the gunfire’s conclusion early on May 12, 1970. Two white officers have been charged with the death of John Stokes and injuring another. Both, though, were acquitted by all-or-mostly white juries.
The Justice Department said on Monday (December 6) that its investigation into the 1955 murder and mutilation of Till — a Black adolescent from Chicago who was tortured, killed, and thrown into the Mississippi River after witnesses alleged he whistled at a white lady in a rural shop. Two white guys subsequently confessed to the killings in a paid magazine article after being exonerated by all-white juries. They are both dead, though, and officials have declared that no more charges can be pursued.
The Justice Department’s Cold Case Initiative began in 2006 and was established the following year under legislation named after Till, whose murder exemplified the depth and savagery of racial hatred deep inside Jim Crow’s South. It was initially intended to investigate other unresolved civil rights cases. However, that was later expanded to include more recent situations, such as fatalities in towns and on college and university campuses during anti-Vietnam War and anti-racism rallies.
Campus demonstrations prompted the investigation of further police killings, which occurred amid simmering resentment about Black people’s subjugation.
Three men were assassinated in Orangeburg, South Carolina, on February 8, 1968, during desegregation protests at a bowling alley near South Carolina State College. Samuel Hammond, Delano Middleton, and Henry Smith were recognized with a campus sports arena after the exoneration of nine state police officers in the “Orangeburg Massacre.”
Phillip Gibbs and James Earl Green were shot and killed by police on May 15, 1970, at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi, while Leonard Brown and Denver Smith were shot and killed by police on November 16, 1972, at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Jackson and Baton Rouge assassinations were never prosecuted.
Seven further incidents are being investigated by the Justice Department. They span the years 1959 through 1970. Donna Reason, a nine-year-old child from Chester, Pennsylvania, was assassinated on May 18, 1970, when a Molotov cocktail was hurled into the home of her mixed-race family.
However, there were never any arrests made.