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College of Law's Cold Case Justice Initiative hosts 'Never Too Late For Justice' event April 24 in Atlanta

April 14, 2010

Scott McDowell
(212) 826-1449

Syracuse University College of Law’s Cold Case Justice Initiative (CCJI) will host “Never Too Late For Justice” on Saturday, April 24, at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, during which some 30 families that lost loved ones to Civil Rights Era murders will all gather in one location for the first time.

The event will include a panel discussion with representatives of family members whose loved ones were victims of still unsolved murders in Mississippi and Louisiana during the Civil Rights Era. Paula C. Johnson and Janis L. McDonald, SU professors of law and co-directors of CCJI, will also participate in the panel, which will explore the legal, historical and societal impact of these unsolved killings; the current effects of the crimes; and the future implications for society in failing to resolve this unfinished business.

Following the panel discussion, Grammy Award nominee Mavis Staples will give a free concert. The event is free and open to the public. Doors open at 2:15 p.m., and the program begins at 3 p.m.

“These cases are not cold for the families. We are not talking about the past. They are living with the lack of answers, with the lack of judicial process and the trauma of these events,” says Johnson. “While the victims of these acts of race-based domestic terrorism may be long gone, their families are very much alive and continue to demand justice. We are law professors and lawyers. We and our students can do the work of investigators and fact finders, and try to determine theories to take to authorities.”

CCJI was founded in response to the 1964 murder of shoe shop owner Frank Morris in Ferriday, La., which remains unsolved. SU College of Law students, under the supervision of Johnson and McDonald, researched thousands of documents and worked with local investigative reporters. This led to witnesses providing new information, the appointment of a special agent by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and a pledge by the U.S. attorney for a full review of the case. The students’ efforts have ignited law enforcement investigation of additional deaths long suspected by the community to be racially motivated and committed by the Ku Klux Klan.

“CCJI’s work epitomizes Syracuse University’s bold tradition of leveraging scholarship in the interest of justice,” says SU Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor. “Just as our faculty and students marshaled their intellect to fight for the rights of women, members of minority groups and people with disabilities in decades and centuries past, Paula Johnson, Janis McDonald and our students are bringing their expertise to bear on seeking justice for the victims of Civil Rights Era atrocities. We are deeply honored to host this unprecedented gathering in this hallowed location for families for whom justice has been too long delayed.”

Mavis Staples performed Feb. 27 at SU following a panel discussion similar to the Atlanta panel; her campus performane and the panel were both sponsored by CCJI. The legendary family gospel group The Staple Singers became the musical voices of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Group member and civil rights activist Mavis today continues to inspire those who work for peace and justice throughout the world with her Civil Rights Movement-inspired blend of gospel, soul, folk, blues and jazz.

“Mavis Staples’ music epitomizes the faith and courage of the Civil Rights Movement. As a native of Mississippi, she sings what she knows and has lived. It is an honor to have her perform for us,” says Johnson.

The families will start arriving on the afternoonof Friday, April 23, to participate in a private, facilitated conversation, which will resume Saturday morning. This is an opportunity for families to share experiences, identify needs and goals, and learn more about CCJI. The initiative conducts investigations and research on unresolved cases; offers academic courses, public forums and other special events; and serves as a clearinghouse for sharing and receiving information on active cases.

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