By
updated 4/6/2005 5:09:00 PM ET 2005-04-06T21:09:00

Activists marched Saturday near the site where four black sharecroppers were killed in 1946, hoping publicity about the lynchings would cause someone to step forward with information so the deaths could join the list of civil rights-era cases being prosecuted.

A white mob pulled two men and two women from a car near the Moore's Ford bridge about 40 miles east of Atlanta, dragged them down a wagon trail and shot them. No one has been convicted in the killings.

Raise awareness
Organizers hoped Saturday's march, which drew about 100 people, would raise awareness about the murders so the case would have a better chance of proceeding to trial.

"The biggest problem with the cases is the evidence is gone, and most of the witnesses are dead," said Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. "Nobody back then would come forward and say anything against the white power structure."

But the political climate in the South has shifted and convictions on civil rights cases are now possible, said Dees, who represented the widow of murdered Mississippi civil rights activist Medgar Evers during the trial of former Klan leader Sam Bowers.

"Juries now are more persuaded to find guilt with less proof, and I'm speaking as a criminal defense lawyer now," Dees said.

The Moore's Ford Memorial Committee is petitioning prosecutor Ken Wynne to seek indictments in the case. A 2001 mandate by then-Gov. Roy Barnes to reopen the case has yielded no new information, Wynne said.

"If there is anyone with knowledge of what happened or who did it, we would welcome them coming forward," he said.

Convictions in civil rights-era murder cases began as early as the 1970s. In 1977, ex-Klansman Robert Chambliss was convicted in the 1963 bombing of a Birmingham, Ala., church in which four black girls were killed.

"Feel the dam break"
But it was the 1994 conviction of Byron de la Beckwith in the 1963 murder of Medgar Evers that encouraged justice seekers, said attorney Andy Sheldon, who was involved with the Evers case and several others.

"You could feel the dam break with Beckwith," Sheldon said.

In 1998, former Klan leader Sam Bowers was convicted for the 1966 firebombing death of NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer Sr. Two others were indicted with Bowers, but one died before trial and the other's indictment was dismissed.

Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Cherry were convicted in 2001 and 2002 in the Birmingham church bombing, and in 2003 Earnest Avants was convicted of killing 67-year-old handyman Ben Chester White, allegedly in an attempt to lure the Rev. Martin Luther King to Natchez, Miss.

In January, 81-year-old Edgar Ray Killen was charged with the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Miss.

Other groups trying to capitalize on the change in political atmosphere include the group Southern Truth and Reconciliation, which was inspired by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu's brief stint as a religion professor at Atlanta's Emory University,

"This is not necessarily about prosecuting individuals and compensating victims, but about the restoration and repair of the fabric of society," said Thee Smith, director of the Southern Truth and Reconciliation and an associate religion professor at Emory.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments