Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mississippi Still Burning Like Southern California...

Rally Organizer John Gibson Says:
The Justice Rally was a great success.

There were over 200 people who attended the Justice Rally. It would have been more, if the Clarion-Ledger had announced the start time accurately. The newspaper announced the rally as beginning at a time that was past the scheduled conclusion time. The newspaper did this in spite of having been repeatedly given accurate information orally and in writing.

Let's keep the pressure on for full truth and justice.

Rally Participants Demand Probe Of Civil Rights Killings
By Chris Joyner

Joe Ellis/The Clarion-Ledger
Louis Allen Jr. (left) draws the crowd's attention to a photo of his grandparents, Louis Allen Sr. and Elizabeth Allen, held by his sister, Regina Allen, as they and other family members seek justice in Louis Allen Sr.'s 1964 slaying and other civil rights-era killings in Mississippi at a state Capitol rally on Monday.

THE NAMES ON THE SIGNS — Lamar Smith, Benjamin Brown, Wharlest Jackson, Adlena Hamlett — were reminders of some of Mississippi's darkest days during the civil rights movement.

About 60 people rallied on the steps of the Capitol with signs in hand Monday, demanding that the state become more aggressive in investigating the deaths while there's time to bring culprits to justice.

John Gibson, a rally organizer, said the group has identified 55 Mississippians killed during the movement, which started in the 1950s.

"In the vast majority of these cases, there has been no justice," he said. "We are here to demand a full measure of justice for all of Mississippi's civil rights martyrs."

If state prosecutors are uninterested in pursuing the cases, Gibson asked that a special prosecutor be named.

Henry Allen's father, Louis Allen Sr., was shot to death in his driveway in 1964 in Liberty. Speaking before the group, Allen said he hoped the rally would inspire more interest in the cases. This month, the Allen family offered a $20,000 reward for anyone with information leading to the arrest and prosecution of Louis Allen's killer.

"I've been pretty patient because it's been 43 years, but ... I'm going to get justice some sort of way," Henry Allen said. "If I have to sit on the White House steps, that's what I will do."

Louis Allen Jr., the grandson of the slain Amite County man, said the toll-free number set up by the family already has resulted in some new tips.

"I believe there are good people both black and white who are interested in bringing this to an end," he said.

Rally organizers called out the names of possible suspects in some of the unsolved crimes and blasted Gov. Haley Barbour and Attorney General Jim Hood, among other state officials, for not bringing more cases to trial.

Barbour spokesman Pete Smith said the governor supports prosecuting criminals in any crime.

"The governor has always said that if there is enough evidence out there to bring people to justice, then they should be held accountable," Smith said.

Smith would not answer questions on whether the governor believed he had any greater role to play in pushing investigations into civil rights-era cases.

Hood, who was not at his Jackson office across from the Capitol at the time of the rally, said prosecuting decades-old cases is more difficult than many believe. In most, witnesses have died and evidence has disappeared or was never collected at the time, he said.

At the same time, Hood said the prosecution of Edgar Ray Killen for the 1964 deaths of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney was a long shot, too.

"When I came in, I thought Mike Moore had worked those cases completely out," he said. "You never say they are over, because someone could come forward."

In 2005, a jury found Killen guilty of three counts of manslaughter. He now is serving a 60-year sentence.

At Monday's rally, organizers passed around a list of names of others connected to the 1964 slayings.

"Nine are still living," Gibson said. "Killen is one, so there are eight that are still not in jail."

Hood said he presented evidence on a number of suspects to a grand jury, but only Killen was indicted.

He would need new evidence, he said.

A bill to establish a cold-case unit within the U.S. Justice Department to investigate civil rights-era killings has been stalled in the Senate since June. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has put a hold on the bill because he wants its sponsors to find money to cover the $11.5 million annual cost.

The bill is called the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, named after a 14-year-old African American who was brutally slain while on a summer vacation in Money in 1955.

Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP, said the state should mirror the commitment at the federal level, including the establishment of a cold-case unit to dig up new evidence.

"It is now time for the state of Mississippi to do the same thing," he said.
To comment on this story, call Chris Joyner at (601) 360-4619.

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