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SU Law turns the heat up on civil rights cold cases

Forgotten families:

On Dec. 10, 1964 a 12-year-old girl hears an ear-piercing explosion. She didn't know it at the time, but it was the sound of her grandfather's shoe repair shop bursting into flames.

Rosa Morris Williams is now 56--and her grandfather's murder is still unsolved.

In the 44 years since Frank Morris' murder, in Ferriday, La., his family hasn't been contacted by any representative of law enforcement. No one has ever been arrested or accused for his murder and the FBI won't release names or even indicate if these suspects are still alive.

Several African-Americans were killed during the Civil Rights era and most their cases haven't been given a fair investigation. The Morris family is one of many awaiting justice.

"This era has been neglected and allowing murders to go under the radar without any justice is dangerous to the integrity of the system," said Syracuse University Law professor Janis L. McDonald.

During the racially-charged 1960s, when African-Americans were gaining new civil liberties, they also experienced fatal backlash. In 1964, the same year of Morris' death, the Ku Klux Klan firebombed and killed people in voter registration offices, newspapers that ran anti-Klan tirades, students of integrated schools, black principals, civil rights workers, NAACP leaders' homes, black-owned stores and businesses and churches. After many confessions from Klansmen for detonating bombs to kill African-Americans, prosecutors refused to charge them. Federal judges often dismissed felony counts of murder and instead had criminals face misdemeanor counts.

Most of these murders never received the attention they deserved, but now SU is demanding meaningful investigations so that prosecutions can occur, regardless of the long delay. SU College of Law professors Paula C. Johnson, Janis L. McDonald and students are examining Civil Rights era murder cases that have collected dust with their year-old Cold Case Justice Initiative.

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