The United States Justice Department concluded its investigation into Emmett Till’s death this week. Despite the lack of fresh evidence to support additional charges in the 14-year-old’s 1955 lynching, the FBI’s Cold Case Initiative continues to look into other cold-case incidents from the civil rights movement era that have racial bias implications.
The FBI established the Justice Department Cold Case Initiative in 2006. This department’s aim is to “find and investigate racially motivated homicides that occurred decades ago.” The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act (“Emmett Till Act”), which was passed and signed into law on Oct. 8, 2008, was influenced by the program.
This department has been able to pinpoint unsolved race-related cold cases where the victims’ civil rights may have been criminally violated over the years thanks to partnerships with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and the National Urban League.
The Justice Department disclosed to Congress in July that it is still investigating 20 cold cases from the 1960s and 1970s in which American citizens’ civil rights were violated. Thirteen of the twenty cases involve police shootings of Black people in Southern states.
A 1970 demonstration in Augusta, Georgia, erupted after a 16-year-old kid named Charles Oatman was slain in the county jail’s custody. Thousands of Black residents protested in a seven-mile radius during the two-day uprising. Six Black men were shot by local police during this act of civil unrest, although no one was charged with a crime.
The two white cops charged with the police-involved shootings that injured five protestors and killed John Stokes were acquitted by an all-white jury. In certain shootings, the DOJ could find that the victims’ federal civil rights were violated.
The mass killings of seven Black males who were prominent in student protests in South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana during the civil rights movement are also under investigation. These killings are also unsolved.
The Orangeburg Massacre at South Carolina State University in 1968, in which three people were murdered by police, is one of the most well-known killings linked to the aforementioned student protests.
Sammy Hammond, Delano Middleton, and Henry Smith were all students that were killed.
One of the officers shot Hammond, a freshman at S.C. State, in the back. Middleton was shot seven times as a 17-year-old high school student whose mother worked at the institution. Finally, Smith, who was 18 at the time, was shot three times. Nine of the school’s 70 armed officers were charged and put on trial for shooting unarmed protestors.
Despite the fact that US Attorney General Ramsey Clark stated that the cops had lost control and “committed murder,” all of these guys were acquitted. To establish if Clark was correct in his evaluation, the Cold Case Initiative is examined.
The 1970 Jackson State protest, in which two young men, Phillip Gibbs, and James Earl Green, were killed when police fired a 28-second barrage of shots into a throng of restless students, will be investigated further by the state. Green, unlike Gibbs, was not a student at the time of his death, but was still in high school, awaiting his graduation a few days later.
The President’s Commission on Campus Unrest eventually concluded that the shootings were “an excessive, unjustified overreaction,” and that the dispute between the police and the students was rooted in “race animosities.” Despite this, two grand juries, one local and the other federal decided not to charge any cops involved in the deaths of the two teenagers.
The agency also wants to bring justice to Leonard Brown and Denver Smith, who was slain during a protest at Southern University in 1972, as documented in the 2018 PBS documentary “Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities.”
The students and the state police were at odds, according to reports, but not Smith. He wasn’t involved in politics. Josephine Smith-Jones, his sister, stated that she was the reason he was there. She told the outlet three years ago, “He (Denver Smith) was never part of the movement at all.” “My brother would not have been there if I hadn’t been involved.” No one was charged in these murders, as in so many others investigated by the department.
Donna Reason, 9 years old, is the youngest victim of one of the cold cases being researched. A Molotov cocktail was thrown into her Chester, Pennsylvania home’s living room in 1970. According to investigators, the Reason family was not the intended target in the first place. The offenders, according to law enforcement who was assigned to watch a local district justice of the peace, intended to assault the judge.
The attack occurred “shortly before midnight,” according to a story published in The Daily Courier on May 20, 1970. Reason’s father tried to save her during the fire, but she pulled away from him and muttered, “I have to get to school,” half-asleep. She lost her footing and went down the stairs into the blazing living room, where the bomb exploded.
No one has been charged with the death of the elementary school student fifty-one years later.
Under the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, the FBI’s Close Case Initiative hopes to bring justice to all of these instances.