Strange wants to look at civil rights cold cases

Published 11:28pm Monday, January 31, 2011

MONTGOMERY — New Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange isn’t ready to give up on prosecuting cases linked to killings and other mistreatment during the civil rights movement.

Strange said one of his priorities is to determine if there are “cold cases” that could still be prosecuted from the days when Alabama was segregated.

Strange, speaking with reporters last week, said the clock is running down on such cases because many of them date to the 1950s and 1960s or earlier, and witnesses and victims have died or are in poor health. Strange said he would like to see those who committed these crimes brought to justice.

“As long as there’s someone still out there, justice needs to be done,” Strange said. “If we can get our hands on them we will.”

That’s good news to Michael Jackson, who serves as district attorney in several counties in mostly black southwest Alabama, where some unsolved civil rights cases are still pending.

Jackson pursued murder charges in Perry County against former Alabama state trooper James Bonard Fowler in the death of a black man, 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was shot during a protest in Marion in 1965. Fowler was charged with murder in 2007 and last year pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree manslaughter after Jackson spent three years trying to bring the case to trial.

Jackson, who met with Strange recently to discuss old civil rights cases, applauded efforts to bring additional cold cases to trial. Jackson said there are two cold cases in Wilcox County that could be reopened.

One is the death of Rodell Williamson of Camden, whose body was found in the Alabama River in 1961 after it snagged on a fisherman’s line. Williamson was active in the local NAACP chapter, but authorities at the time said there were no signs of foul play.

Another cold case, Jackson said, was the death of 16-year-old Archie Wooden, who bled to death after either jumping or falling onto a cut sapling in a ditch in 1967. While the case sounded like an accidental death at the time, Jackson said foul play could be involved.

The FBI has in recent years reopened investigations of some cold cases from the civil rights era. FBI agent Dana Gillis of Huntsville said the agency will cooperate with Strange.

Strange also has met with Richard Cohen, the president of the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center, which keeps records on deaths where civil rights violations might have been involved. Cohen said some of those cases involve incidents where “African-Americans were killed under mysterious circumstances.”

Cohen said the center has turned files over to the FBI and would share information with the attorney general’s office.

“He has the opportunity to help us leap forward” in the investigation of cold cases, Cohen said.

The Alabama Attorney General’s Office has played a part in opening civil rights cold cases in the past.

Former Attorney General Bill Baxley opened investigations of several civil rights era bombings of Birmingham churches and was the lead prosecutor in the 1977 prosecution of former Klansman Robert Chambliss for the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four black girls.

More than 20 years later, then-Attorney General Bill Pryor was involved in reopening the investigation, leading to the convictions of former Klansmen Tommy Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherry.

  • vonnie


    Are there any of these bigots, liars, cowards and thugs in your family? Your position conveys a strong inference there are.

  • aacourtland

    I hope they dig up all these cold murder cases and bring all of these criminals to justice. They shouldn’t get a pass just because they are old, or have changed their ways, maybe. A criminal is a criminal, no matter what era they come from, no matter what color they are, no matter what color their victim is. To be honest, I think they should find a remote island somewhere and put them all on a one-way flight to it and let them all…

  • yellowroseofTexas

    I don’t disagree completely with opening the old cases. However, I do wonder whether the evidence gathered (if any) would be strong enough to convict someone after all these years. I also wonder about Mr. Strange’s sincerity in this matter. And I am aware there is more current criminal actiivty that needs addressing with money and time.
    I am not a racist. Murder is murder regardless of race.

    • leo71

      Good points,yellowrose.I tend to be skeptical of Luther Strange’s sincerity as well,I don’t think he’s doing this because he’s had some pang of conscience.Your comment about dealing with current cases makes sense also.

  • leo71

    They sure would,vonnie.I’m not one that looks through a racial prism about every single thing going wrong with black folks–quite frankly a lot of the damage we’re doing to ourselves with the black on black crime,anti-intellectualism,etc,etc– but this is something I feel very strongly about.You have to wonder about these people making these “keep the past in the past” comments and whether they’re sympathetic to these murderers.When they are prosecuted and put in jail,like they should have been back in the day,then we can put it in the past.

  • vonnie

    If someone in your family were killed, and the individual, moral bankrupt and uncivilized animals they were, all of you that claim let the past be the past would want to have the person or persons brought before the bar of justice.

  • jon

    digging up bones to far gone and nobody around.i’m sure there’s gotta be something current to spend the time on.thats along time ago and sooner or later somebody’s gotta let it go..or it will always be a main topic myself i am burned out on it… the continued use of people from 50 years ago make a name for yourself and stop bringing up things to cause issue’s dang..

    • aacourtland

      Jon, what if some of those “bones” were the bones of one of your relatives? I thought so.

  • itsallcrap

    The past is the past……You could not have a future without it! But let’s hey please leave it there! We will NEVER be able to understand some of the things that went on during the “CIVIL RIGHTS” movement, but for lord sakes don’t waste no money on it!

  • leo71

    I disagree,Bama22.Try telling that to the families of the victims of these crimes.Goodman,Schwerner& Cheney,Emmitt Till,Viola Liuzzo,James Reeb amd countless others I say go after those that got a slap on the wrist for killing them as well.

  • bama22

    Another waste of our Tax Dollars. Everyone says, move on and don’t look back, but to the future. Well, what are they doing, satisfying the same old ones that do nothing but complain because my check is late. They are the ones that blame the Whites remember! Well, I didn’t do anything to their dead ancestor’s nor them wanting to make a profit or prove a point by going after some 90 year old man or woman that won’t live long enough to even serve a sentence in prison. Just another way to satisfy the black so called leaders and to make another buck off of us whom worked all their lives while they sit on their sorry —’s and do nothing but think of more crap to complain about. I am very disappointed in his decision on this and I hope one day we can get politician’s who have the balls to stand up to everyone, and quit kissing the —’s of those that do nothing but sit on their –’s.

    • truth

      Wow bama22 but I guess everyone is entitled to their point of view. What does a person on welfare have to do with this issue?? I’m a little lost on this one because no one is getting paid from these cases, well except the lawyers?? I’ve worked since I was 17 and I want the cases open…oh I’m sorry as I re-read you were just being another racist living in Selma..I’m sorry I didn’t follow at first or maybe one of your relatives or yourself may be involved?

    • aacourtland

      Spoken like a true racist. If someone killed your relative, you would want them brought to justice, no matter how long ago it was. Shouldn’t these people have the same right. The criminals who murdered, raped, etc… their victims in the past are no better than the criminals who are doing it now. ALL criminals should be brought to justice…All of them! Stop making everything a race issue; you are living in the past just like the others you indict! What a hypoctite.


    Fowler only received 6 months for misdemeanor manslauder. Another plea bargain by our D.A….SAD. popdukes12

    • leo71

      Interesting article,popdukes.I tend to be a little suspicious of Fowler and believe that he killed Mr.Jackson on purposefully.Wasn’t he involved in another shooting in Birmingham?

  • N L

    I am glad to hear that he will be pursuing these cases! I will be praying for him that justice can finally be done!

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