Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Some Jim Crow-era murders have drawn much more attention than others. At the top end of the scale was the high-profile case of the Klan murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner on June 21, 1964—which draws thousands of entries in the Nexis news database (a search will not return more than 3,000 at a time). Several conspirators were tried in federal court in the 1960s and actually served some time for their role. Then the case continued to simmer on the national radar, finally culminating in the arrest and prosecution of Edgar Ray Killen in June 2005.
After the verdict was announced, Schwerner's widow, Rita Schwerner Bender, talked to the media on the front lawn of the Neshoba County courthouse, challenging the press corps—that was routinely referring to the Killen case as the "last" of the civil-rights cold cases—to continuing pursuing justice in lower-profile murders, especially those of African-American Mississippians like Henry Dee and Charles Moore in 1964.
"You're here, you're interested in this trial as the most important trial in the Civil Rights Movement because two of the men were white," Bender told the media. "You're still doing what was done in 1964."
She was right. As of Jan. 1, 2007, there were 97 Nexis entries for "Charles Moore" and "Henry Dee." That changed overnight when the indictment of James Ford Seale was announced on Jan. 17.
Here is a timeline highlighting notable media interest in the Dee-Moore case over the years:
June 1970 – In a book published June 1970 called "Attack on Terror: The FBI Against the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi," writer Don Whitehead described some of the FBI's 1960s-era findings on the Dee-Moore murders.
Oct. 20, 1991 – Associated Press reporter Christopher Sullivan included the Dee-Moore case in a round-up of old civil-rights case that hadn't been pursued. He probably entered a phrase into the media archives that was repeated endlessly last week—that, after Seale and Edwards' arrest, a "a justice of the peace dropped all charges—without explanation and without presenting the evidence to a grand jury," citing "Free At Last," a civil rights history edited by Sara Bullard of the Southern Poverty Law Center. That is faulty, however; the district attorney explained then that he feared the case would be dismissed because the Klansmen had spread rumors that law enforcement had roughed them up.
1996 – In his book, "Betrayed: The Presidential Failure to Protect Black Lives," writer Earl Ofari Hutchinson detailed the Moore and Dee case, named Seale and another suspect, and called on federal officials to indict the men on kidnapping charges. He pointed out that because the crime occurred in a national forest, the feds had jurisdiction. (See his column "Justice Demands More", here.)
April 30, 1996 – Vern E. Smith detailed the murders in a piece in Emerge Magazine.
Dec. 16, 1998 – In a series on unsolved race murders, New York Newsday reporter Stephanie Saul interviewed Thomas Moore about his brother's murder. "I'm looking for justice, not revenge," he told Saul. She also interviewed Charles Marcus Edwards, who denied involvement: "The things I was accused of at the time wasn't true."
Nov. 29, 1999 – Connie Chung's "20-20" report on Klan murders in the Natchez area aired on ABC, reviving interest in the Dee-Moore case, as well as that of Ben Chester White and Ernest Avants and raising the specter of federal prosecution due to crimes committed on federal land.
Jan. 13, 2000 – The Associated Press reported that District Attorney Ronnie Harper had asked the feds to investigate the Dee-Moore case.
Jan. 23, 2000 – The Clarion-Ledger's Jerry Mitchell interviewed Thomas Moore in a piece about the murders, also reporting that of the two main suspects—Charles Marcus Edwards and James Ford Seale—that "only Edwards is still alive."
June 2005 – David Ridgen of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. called the Jackson Free Press and discussed documenting the paper investigating the Dee-Moore case. After agreeing to help each other, Ridgen reached Thomas Moore and offered to bring him back to Mississippi to meet up with the JFP and seek justice in his brother's murder.
July 8, 2005 - Donna Ladd and Kate Medley met Ridgen and Moore in Meadville and covered Moore's visit, and investigated the case for the next two weeks. Ridgen and the Jackson Free Press learned simultaneously that Seale was still alive.
July 20, 2005 – The Jackson Free Press published a detailed narrative of Moore's visit and revealed that Seale was still alive. That story, and several follow-ups, is available on our Web site.
Jan. 24, 2007* – Thomas Moore and David Ridgen faced a media storm in Washington, D.C., as the indictments were announced. Donna Ladd and Kate Medley took CNN to the spots in Meadville and Roxie discussed in our original 2005 story.
*This date is corrected in the online version. A typo appeared in the print version this week, listing the date as Jan. 18, 2007. We apologize for the error.
- Note that the last date in this timeline has been corrected. There is a typo in the print version.