Newswire : Alabama Senator Doug Jones introduces legislation to mandate release of Civil Rights Cold Case Records

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Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Ala.) introduced legislation on July 10 mandating the review, declassification, and release of government records related to unsolved criminal civil rights cases. Legislation is necessary because the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as implemented, has prevented the timely and adequate disclosure of executive branch records, and congressional records are not subject to public disclosure under FOIA.

In addition, some of these records, although almost 50 years old, remain classified unnecessarily or shielded from public view. The Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act of 2018 remedies this problem by requiring the National Archives and Records Administration to create a collection of government documents related to civil rights cold cases and to make those documents available to the public. U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is an original co-sponsor of the legislation.

“Having prosecuted two civil rights cold cases in Alabama, I know firsthand the importance of having every available piece of information at your disposal,” said Senator Jones, a former U.S. Attorney. “This bill will ensure public access to records relating to these cases and will expand the universe of people who can help investigate these crimes, including journalists, historians, private investigators, local law enforcement, and others. We might not solve every one of these cold cases, but my hope is that this legislation will help us find some long-overdue healing and understanding of the truth in the more than 100 unsolved civil rights criminal cases that exist today.”

Jones, who successfully prosecuted two of the former KKK members responsible for the bombing of the 16thStreet Baptist Church, has long been an advocate for greater access to civil rights cold case records. In 2007, he testified to the House Judiciary Committee in support of the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Act that established a special initiative in the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate civil rights cold cases. He spoke about the difficulty of prosecuting these cases so many years after the crimes were committed and pointed to the importance of sharing information in order to find the truth.

“We’ve made progress ensuring these heinous acts of violence and hatred are able to be brought to justice—but we have more work to do,” said Senator Claire McCaskill, former Jackson County Prosecutor. “Helping families and advocates get access to these documents could help their push towards justice for these long unsolved cold cases.”

“It is hard to overstate the positive impact that Sen. Doug Jones’s proposed Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act would have on thousands of families who, 40 to 60 years later, have no idea how a father, grandfather, aunt or brother came to a violent death in the modern civil rights era,” said Hank Klibanoff, Director, Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases Project at Emory University. “As a journalist and historian who relies on government-held records in these civil rights cold cases, it’s important to know that our purposes are simple: To learn the truth, to seek justice where there may be a living perpetrator, to tell the untold stories, and to bring closure to families of victims, and find opportunities for racial reconciliation.”

The Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act of 2018 will:

· Require the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to establish a collection of cold case records about unsolved criminal civil rights cases that government offices must publicly disclose in the collection without redaction or withholding.

· Establish a Civil Rights Cold Case Records Review Board as an independent agency of impartial private citizens to facilitate the review, transmission to NARA, and public disclosure of government records related to such cases.

Senator Jones’ bill was modeled after the President John F. Kennedy, Jr. Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, which created an orderly and effective process for reviewing, declassifying, and releasing thousands of documents related to the assassination of President Kennedy. Read a detailed overview of the legislation here.

The legislation Senator Jones introduced was originally envisioned by students from Hightstown High School in Hightstown, New Jersey, and their teacher, Stuart Wexler.

Newswire: 150th anniversary of the 14th Amendment that declared Blacks U.S. citizens

By Frederick H. Lowe
Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from NorthStarNewsToday.com

(TriceEdneyWire.com) — July 9 marks the 150th anniversary of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting American citizenship to former Black slaves following the Civil War.
The 14th Amendment, one of the Reconstruction Amendments, was adopted on July 9, 1868, after being bitterly opposed by states that were former members of the Confederacy. The states were forced to ratify the amendment to regain representation in Congress.
The amendment’s Citizenship Clause nullified the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1857 decision concerning Dred Scott v. Sanford, which the court ruled that Americans who descended from African slaves could not be United States citizens.
The Amendment also prohibits states from denying persons equal protection of the laws or depriving them of life, liberty or property without due process of the law. The first section of the Amendment is the most-litigated forming the basis of U.S. Supreme Court decisions such as 1954’s Brown v Board of Education and Roe v. Wade in 1973.
The Reconstruction Amendments are the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments to the United States Constitution
They were adopted between 1865 and 1870, the five years immediately following the Civil War. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery and the 15th Amendment made it illegal to deny individuals the right to vote because of their race.
In the South, the 14th Amendment made one of its biggest legal impacts.
Members of the Klu Klux Klan in cahoots with a sheriff’s deputy shot to death civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner and buried their bodies in an earthen dam in Nashoba County, Mississippi. The murders occurred in 1964. While the FBI hunted for Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner, they found the remains of eight other Black men who the Klu Klux Klan had murdered. Only two of the Black men were identified.
U.S. District Court Judge William Harold Cox, a known segregationist, who sat on the court in the Southern District of Mississippi, dismissed 241 charges against the 18 alleged killers. Cox, who was appointed a federal judge by President John F. Kennedy, ruled that Sections 241 (conspiracy against rights) and 242 (deprivation under color of law) of the federal code were enacted to protect federal rights not the rights given by states to their citizens.
The case then went to the U.S. Supreme Court. In majority opinion written by Associate Justice Abe Fortas, he ruled that the indictment against the mob must stand because they denied Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney due process guaranteed under 14th Amendment.
A jury found eight members of Klu Klux Klan guilty of the murders. This was the first case in which whites who participated in what the law described as a lynching were convicted and sentenced to prison.
This article originally published in the June 25, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.