Finding James Ford Seale Alive: A Timeline

This is how the discovery that James Ford Seale was alive transpired

Media folks often ask the Jackson Free Press to clarify why the timeline in the original story, "I Want Justice, Too," published in the JFP on July 20, 2005, about Thomas Moore's July 2005 trip to Meadville varies from the "Mississippi Cold Case" documentary released about that trip back to Meadville nearly two years later. The truth is that that documentary muddles the timeline in some small, but significant ways, that leave out the role of the Jackson Free Press. (The original intent of the documentary was to document Mississippi journalists covering Moore's journey for justice.)

June 3, 2005 - David Ridgen wrote the JFP's Donna Ladd an e-mail confirming his plans to come make a documentary about the JFP writing a story about the Dee-Moore case:

To iterate and flesh out the possibility we've already discussed, I think it would be interesting to parallel the Killen trial with the unsolved case of Dee and Moore, and for me to follow you - Philadelphia native Donna Ladd - as you put together a story on it for the Jackson Free Press. In the course of you doing this story, the story of the heros could come out as well.

June 7, 2005 - David Ridgen wrote to the JFP's Ladd that he had found an article about the brother of Charles Moore and would start trying to find him, and Ladd said she would start trying to call Klansmen from that area, civil-rights heros such as Charles Evers that she knew and other sources on the ground in Mississippi.

Thursday, July 7, 2005 - Thomas Moore and David Ridgen arrive in Meadville, Miss., after driving from Colorado Springs to work with the JFP; the JFP article was set to come out after they finishing filming on the trip and left; Ridgen planned to bring the doc out several weeks later. We'd agreed to say the projects were made "in conjunction" with each other, since we were both interviewing and researching it.

Friday, July 8, 2005 - While waiting for the JFP's Donna Ladd and Kate Medley arrive in Meadville to start the documentary about the JFP covering Thomas's search for justice, Moore and Ridgen went to see D.A. Ronnie Harper at 10 a.m. He told them that he thought James Ford Seale was still alive. After Ladd and Medley arrive in Meadville later that morning, Moore tells them what Harper said, but the group is skeptical because Jerry Mitchell had reported him dead and the local D.A. had not been actively investigating the case, so we weren't positive he knew for sure. The group spends the rest of the day retracing Dee and Moore's last steps, interviewing, photographing and filming.

Saturday, July 9, 2005 - Ladd and Medley go to interview former Klansman James K. Greer. He tells them that Seale is still alive. After a long interview, they go to the Natchez Democrat office to look for an obituary since it was Saturday and government offices were closed.

The same morning, Ridgen and Moore go to Roxie to see Moore family members and look around in Franklin County. At the BP in Roxie, someone tells the men that Seale is alive and living across the street. They go to the cemetary to look for his grave and don't find it. They return and get a video capture of Seale outside his trailer.

While at the newspaper office, Ladd and Medley get an excited, whispered call from Moore and Ridgen saying that Seale was still alive. They responded that they had found out the same thing from Greer.

The group then gathers in Moore's hotel room to talk and plan.

Sunday, July 10, 2005: The group meets on property owned by Moore family members across from the church where they believe Seale attends. Moore plans to approach Seale wearing hidden-camera glasses that Ridgen asked him to wear, but Seale does not show up.

Later that day, the group interviews Henry Dee's sister, and looks in vain for his unmarked grave on a dirt road in Franklin County.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005: Moore and Ridgen meet with U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton in Jackson and tells him that Seale is alive. He agrees to help investigate the case.

Sunday, July 17, 2005: The men, as well as Medley and JFP intern Natalie Irby, return to Roxie for a church service, after which Moore puts signs up on the roads in front of Seale's and Charles Marcus Edwards' homes. (In the documentary, this is oddly depicted as having happened a year later.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005: After the men leave Mississippi, the JFP publishes the above story about Moore's trip, which reveals that Seale was still alive.

I hope this clarifies confusion the documentary might have caused. Looking back at e-mails from Ridgen, it seems that the confusion might have resulted from his mixing up dates. He wrote me on Nov. 1, 2005, verbatim:

it was 7:30 am on the Saturday July 8 that we were told of Seale's existence the second time and first shown his house. We got the non-blurry shot of him later on in the day of the 8th (i think in late morning after we went to the Seale graveyard to make sure his body wasn't there). we were told about Seale being alive by Harper the first time at 10 am the day before (July 7). as it has been noted somewhere, it wasn't difficult to find him at all.

Ridgen's dates there were off by one day. Harper did tell them about Seale on Friday, as he says, but the date was July 8, not July 7, which was a Thursday (and I don't remember Harper's revelation being mentioned in the doc). And they did film him on Saturday, but the date was July 9, not the 8th, as a calendar shows.

So his version of them finding Seale on Saturday is correct; it just wasn't on the 8th before they met up with the JFP, which would be a serious distortion of what actually happened. Bottom line: Harper told them on the 8th; they told us an hour later; Greer told us on the 9th; and a BP customer told them the same morning. As Ridgen said in that e-mail, it wasn't like it was a major feat to find out, which makes it all the more sad that Seale had hidden away for so long as media had reported him dead.

If anyone has further questions about the story, please e-mail [email protected].

— Donna Ladd


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment