Is FBI Running out of Time to Solve Civil Rights Era Cold Cases?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Arthur Leonard Spencer (photo: Civil Rights Cold Case Project)

Federal agents have spent the past six years reviewing cold-case homicides from the civil rights era that were never solved. The effort has produced only a couple successes, leaving civil rights advocates dissatisfied and calling for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to do more.


Beginning in 2006, the FBI launched its Cold Case Initiative, pulling 112 cases from the 1950s and 1960s to determine if those responsible for killing African-Americans and others could still be brought to justice.


Some were, such as the former Klansman James Seale, who was prosecuted for the May 1964 murders of two young black men, Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore, in Mississippi, and the former Alabama state trooper, James Bonard Fowler, who was tried for killing Jimmie Lee Jackson, an unarmed civil rights marcher on February 26, 1965. In 2010, Fowler pleaded guilty to manslaughter, apologized, and got off with ony six months in prison.


But many other cases remain unsolved, including the December 10, 1964, death of Frank Morris in Ferriday, Louisiana. Morris, who was black, died when a group of men set his shop on fire.


A local newspaper, The Concordia Sentinel, ran an investigative story two years ago that revealed a suspect in the case was still alive—someone who had been implicated in the murder by his own family.


But the FBI never charged the man, saying they were unable to compile the credible evidence necessary to charge him. The suspect, Arthur Leonard Spencer, died last week.


Paula Johnson, law professor and co-director of the Cold Case Justice Initiative at Syracuse University, says Congress should conduct hearings to decide if the FBI has done enough to investigate the Morris case and others like it.


“We would want a much more accelerated pace to these cases,” Johnson told NPR, “and that’s the thing that we’re calling for.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Turning Up The Heat On Civil Rights-Era Cold Cases (by Joseph Shapiro, NPR)

Rayville man implicated in Frank Morris case (by Stanley Nelson, Concordia Sentinel)

The Civil Rights Cold Case Project

FBI Still Working on 108 Civil Rights Murder Cold Cases (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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