≡ Menu

Recent Developments

It's been a while since I've posted here, so I thought a little roundup might be in order.

The big news, if you've followed my posts over the years about the 1964 Clifton Walker murder case, is that the DOJ has thrown in the towel and closed the case, which was re-opened in 2009. An FBI agent hand-delivered a letter from the DOJ to Clifton Walker's daughter Catherine on November 21, to break the news. More coming soon on this, but in the meantime, check out this excellent report broadcast on Al Jazeera English this past week.

In one of the first posts I wrote over on my new spot, benlog.net, I reflected a bit on how the project I started here on the life and times of my father has so thoroughly morphed into this other work on civil rights cold cases.

By my fourth or fifth time back in Mississippi, it became clear that I was making a choice between the work I’d found there on civil rights cold cases and that unintentional book about my father.

I’m not giving up on the book about Dad, but time and resources for the work are limited—and both projects involve a shrinking window of opportunity to pursue living people with answers that will be lost to history once they die.

So for now, I focus on the project that I do because of him rather than the project that is about him.

Turns out I've had some great, untapped source material for the original project sitting on a shelf in my home office for the last three years—a trove of letters between my parents in the early 50s, while my father was serving in the Army in the Korean War. It's going to take considerable time to scan and transcribe the letters, but I will be carting out stories from that material now and then, as time allows.

Pete Seeger and others, Easter 1961 Anti-Nuclear March on the UN. Photo Credit: Paul Greenberg.

Pete Seeger and others, Easter 1961 Anti-Nuclear March on the UN. Photo Credit: Paul Greenberg.

One thing I've learned is that my father's friendship with Pete Seeger goes further back than what I knew about from the early 60s. You can read about it in A Fast One for Pete Seeger, over on Medium.

I moved my main blogging activity over to benlog.net in an effort to simplify the process. Like a lot of folks who've been blogging since early on, I've started to find that the web-based blogging tools, which so radically transformed the nature of media and how we are able to connect with others online, have come to feel cumbersome. The change of venue seems to have worked—in so far as I've been writing a bit more over there. Even so, I was getting a bit frustrated with my new setup and I decided to change things up again. The blog is still benlog.net, but I've made some changes under the hood.

I guess I should also mention that today, December 22, is my father's birthday. He'd be 86 if he were still around. I posted this video over on the new blog in June when I was feeling melancholy about the Supreme Court ruling that gutted the Voting Rights Act. Tonight it's just a song for you, Dad.

{ 0 comments }

New Blog: benlog.net

I've started another blog at http://benlog.net (feed).

Hungry Blues isn't going anywhere, but I'm mostly blogging over at the new place for now.

Good news is that since I started the new blog, I've been blogging more:

{ 0 comments }

Talked Between the Rooms

This is such an amazing story. Vivian Maier is like the Emily Dickinson of 20th century American photography. A theme of this blog has been what motivates—and what compels—people to commit themselves to a cause or to a practice—whether in art or in politics (or both). Vivian Maier's moving art and mysterious life seem endlessly fascinating in this respect.

I died for Beauty — but was scarce
Adjusted in the Tomb
When One who died for Truth, was lain
In an adjoining room —

He questioned softly "Why I failed"?
"For Beauty", I replied —
"And I — for Truth — Themself are One —
We Brethren, are", He said —

And so, as Kinsmen, met a Night —
We talked between the Rooms —
Until the Moss had reached our lips —
And covered up — our names —

(Emily Dickinson)

UPDATE: I'm not the first person to make the comparison to Emily Dickinson.

{ 0 comments }

Speaking about MLK in 1994

(On January 14, 1994, my father spoke at a local synagogue in Schenectady, NY, as part of their annual celebration of Dr. King. My father worked for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and served as special assistant to Dr. King in 1962 and 1963. The following is an excerpt from his speech. —BG)

By Paul Greenberg

Let me start by saying the fact that Martin Luther King, Jr. was my boss is less important than that he was my friend. In a significant way he was your friend as well. He was a friend of humankind.

I am not going to engage in the usual eulogy or redacting of Dr. King’s career. You have heard it and or read it so much that it has become common and I am afraid a bit banal. What I would like to do in the short time we have together this Shabbes is place the King legacy in a Jewish context.

I don’t intend to raise the question of Black-Jewish relations in part because I think it has been addressed to little avail at length by our community and in part because I think what I will raise speaks to the question in a more meaningful way than the usual discussion that tries to rekindle a better past that I personally don’t think ever existed. I hope you do not find it too vain that I begin with a story out of my own childhood.

I Was a Stranger in a Strange Land

I don’t remember whether I was seven or eight but the scene is vivid in the feeling part of my memory. We were living in Taunton, Massachusetts. Until that day (it must have been summer because I wasn’t in school) I was only vaguely aware of being Jewish. I had heard the family stories, I was somewhat embarrassed by my paternal grandmother’s accent and I loved Bible stories, especially the Exodus tale.

They were starting a baseball game. Sides were being chosen. I stood there expecting to be chosen around fourth or fifth. I was realistic about my ability. I wasn’t the best but I was far from the worst. I made up in determination what I lacked in size. While waiting in pleasant expectation lightning struck.

"Do you want Jewboy? I don’t want him on my side."

It took several seconds for me to realize he was talking about me.

JEWBOY! JEWBOY! JEWBOY!

The word crashed through my being. My insides were raw with pain.

“I am an American,” I screamed in a tearful combination of fear and rage.

"Jewboy!"

"Jew cry baby!"

"Mockie!"

"Christkiller!"

"Scram, Jews can’t play baseball."

I stood my ground and yelled the most meaningful words I could find: "Its a free country!"

I don’t know who threw the fist blow but a general melee ensued. I was badly bruised and I would like to believe several of my tormentors carried home some effects of my frantic and violent surge of energy.

If I Am Not for Myself Who Am I?

Arthur was in my class in public school. He came from a faded line of the town’s Protestant aristocracy. Arthur had a reputation for being wild that led most parents to instruct their children to shun him. Arthur was the nearest to a close friend that I had except for my cousin Marilyn.

News of the altercation traveled fast. Later that same day Arthur came over to exhibit boyish solidarity. He assured me that in any future confrontations he would be a gladiator on my side. He told me that no one could tell a Jew by his looks. He asked me if I thought it was a good idea to change my last name to Green.

I responded with avid indignation. "I am not a quitter!"

Arthur looked at me with new found respect. We sat for some time in quiet togetherness. After Arthur left I felt renewed by his friendship. Three days later he was dead.

"Wasn’t Arthur White a friend of yours," my mother asked?

I felt trapped between loyalty and safety. Admitting Arthur was a friend might bring on the order to stay away from such a wild boy. Denying my friendship would be a major sort of betrayal. I had not caught the nuance of the past tense and I cagily responded, "why?"

Mom matter-of-factly answered, "he was killed while riding his bike this morning. He was over on the Brockton road where he wasn’t supposed to be and he was struck by a car." I ran out side crying tears of rage at Arthur for deserting me.

Several days later I walked to the church where his funeral service was being held. As I approached to enter, I saw all my recent tormentors going in.

Panic overcame me. I ran until my breath was nearly spent and sat down under a tree and cried tears of loneliness and fear. When I was finished crying I made a pledge to myself that I would never again desert a friend.

And now one of Dr. King’s favorite poems as well as one of mine.

Incident

by Countee Cullen

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee.
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, "Nigger."

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.

What is the point? Simply put we who are conscious and actively Jewish live within two cultures Jewish and American. Our effort individually and collectively is to find a place of comfort and ease so that we can have both.

Let me say quickly and emphatically right here so that there is no mis-understanding: the Jewish American experience and the Black American experience are not the same nor can we find an easy equation between the two. I am indicating that we share this relationship to America. We want our own identity and we want to participate fully in our country’s bounty and its decision making.

Living in two cultures is not just the pain and degradation that the story and poem highlight. It is also the joy of sharing in the richness of your heritage. Dr. King once said about the African-American experience: “Life is part pain and part joy and lord knows we have had our share of both.”

(Dedicated to Francine Greenberg Reizen on the anniversary of her Bat Mitzvah)

—Speech at Temple Gates of Heaven (excerpt), Schenectady, NY, January 14, 1994, by Paul Greenberg

{ 1 comment }

And We’re Back!

A week ago, Hungry Blues was hacked and brought down. As it happened my web host is in the process of migrating everyone on its servers to a new hosting infrastructure, and the best way to fix my hacked site was to start over on the new hosting servers. After several days, my data was moved over to the new servers, but there were some remaining technical problems that I was not able to resolve until today (with a little help from a friend).

Things may still be broken here and there on posts and pages—and I'm also in the process of rebooting the site design, as long as I'm starting fresh—so please excuse any messes you may stumble on. If something seems broken on the site, drop me a line, if you're so inclined.

{ 0 comments }

Traitor Town: The Unsolved Civil Rights Slaying of Clifton Walker

Today, in  Jackson, Mississippi's Clarion-Ledger, I published the first investigative news report about the 1964 racial murder of Clifton Walker:

Four and a half years after the FBI announced it would reopen and investigate more than 100 cases of unsolved civil rights-era killings in the South, the bureau has yet to initiate charges in any of the cases. It has instead closed all but 39 of those cases without recommending prosecution.

"Few, if any, of these cases will be prosecuted," the Department of Justice has acknowledged to Congress.

Despite its most vigorous efforts, the FBI has said, it has not been able to overcome "difficulties inherent in all cold cases: subjects die; witnesses die or can no longer be located; memories become clouded; evidence is destroyed or cannot be located; original investigations lacked the technical or scientific advances relied upon today."

But none of those reasons explains why the FBI has been able to gain little ground in a case that is still open - the slaying of Clifton Walker, a 37-year-old African American who was ambushed by a white mob and brutally gunned down in his car on an unpaved backwoods road outside the southwest Mississippi town of Woodville on Feb. 28, 1964. Walker was married and the father of five children.

For Walker's children, the FBI's own management of the case raises questions

Read the rest at the Clarion-Ledger or at USA Today, which also ran the story.

Also today, fellow Civil Rights Cold Case Project reporter Stanley Nelson interviewed me about the Clifton Walker case for his newspaper, the Concordia Sentinel, in Ferriday Louisiana, just across the Mississippi River from southwest Mississippi, where Clifton Walker was murdered. Stanley gave me a nice opportunity to talk more about Clifton Walker and his family.

Clifton Walker was born in Woodville, Miss. in 1927. The youngest of nine children, he was nicknamed "Man" as a child, which stuck through adulthood, as his older siblings tended to look up to him.

Clifton Walker met Ruby Phipps on her way home from Sunday school in 1943. They were married in 1945 and had five children together. The Walker children remember their parents as a strong unit. After they were put to bed, the children would hear their parents talking about life and planning for their needs, how to pay for a car or a washer or what to buy their kids for Christmas.

Clifton Walker served in the U.S. Army in the Korean War. After his discharge, following a knee injury, Walker went to work at International Paper plant in Natchez, where he was a laborer in the wood yard and a member of the black union, St. James Local 747 Pulp, Sulfite and Paper Mill Workers. At the time of his death he made a good wage for a black worker, reportedly $8/hour.

Read the rest at the Concordia Sentinel.

Be sure to watch the trailer posted with the article (as well as here, on hungryblues.net) to see portions of my investigation unfold, meet three of Clifton Walker’s children and visit the crime scene, where he was murdered.

(Cross-posted at the Civil Rights Cold Case Project.)

{ 0 comments }

This Sunday, July 22, the Clarion-Ledger will publish my article about the the 1964 killing of Clifton Walker, a black man from Woodville, Miss.

On February 28, 1964, Clifton Walker was ambushed by a white mob on his drive home from the late shift at the International Paper plant in Natchez, Miss. On the last stretch of Walker's drive home on the dark, twisty, unpaved Poor House Road, near Woodville, his attackers stopped his car, gathered around it with shotguns and fired in at close range, blowing Walker's face apart. The FBI and Mississippi Highway and Safety Patrol investigated for about nine months in 1964 and in November recommended two suspects for arrest to the DA—who claimed there was insufficient evidence for him to act.

In February 2007, the FBI announced it would be probing about 100 of the unsolved civil rights era cold cases. Since then, the FBI says, it has closed all but 39 them. But the Clifton Walker murder case is still open.

In the Clarion-Ledger this Sunday you can read the first full telling of what is currently known about the case—through federal and state documents, through the voices of Clifton Walker's children and their Mississippi neighbors and through my investigation of the case since 2007. For Clifton Walker's children, the FBI's own management of the case raises questions. Learn why this Sunday.

In the trailer, above, you can watch portions of my investigation unfold, meet three of Clifton Walker's children and visit the crime scene, where he was murdered.

{ 0 comments }

Earlier This Week at Occupy Boston

On Monday evening, I got a call from my friend Jesse who had been down at Occupy Boston earlier in the day. Mayor Menino and Boston Police were telling the protestors that they could not stay at the second camp they'd started a block away from the original Dewy Square site, on the Rose Kennedy Greenway; the protestors had till midnight to leave the second site at Atlantic Avenue and Pearl Street or they'd be forcibly removed and arrested. Jesse asked me if I'd go there with him to be unofficial observers and document the goings on should the police take action against the protestors. I'd been wanting to visit Occupy Boston to learn more about it firsthand, and this seemed important to do, so I said yes.

Jesse shot stills with his SLR, and though I brought one, too, I focused on posting in real time via Instagram and Justin.tv. But before I highlight any of that material, I want to direct you to this great 10 minute documentary about Monday night, by Michael Gill.

Gill captured many moments that I also witnessed and shows what it was like there very well. My iPhone video streams are much lower quality and, of course, unedited, but at various times I was broadcasting live to over 3000 viewers, after the police had made most official media leave the scene, so they served a function. One thing not shown in Gill's film was how, after the camp was cleared of protestors, police and sanitation workers disposed of all items remaining---tents, sleeping bags, bedrolls, signs, chairs, supplies---in two sanitation trucks. Here's some footage:


Watch live video from minorjive on Justin.tv

Here's a small slideshow of scenes I captured with the the camer on my phone.

More information about night of October 10 and early morning hours of October 11 at Occupy Boston:

{ 0 comments }

Cold Case Reporting

I started this blog in 2004 to write about things like this photo of my father and James Baldwin in Birmingham, AL in 1963 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

James Baldwin and my father, Paul Greenberg, at the AG Gaston Motel, Birmingham, Alabama, August 4, 1963. (Photo credit: Robert Adamenko)

James Baldwin and my father, Paul Greenberg, at the AG Gaston Motel, Birmingham, Alabama, August 4, 1963. (Photo credit: Robert Adamenko)

In time, however, blogging led to investigative journalism about unpunished lynchings and other violence from the civil rights era.

In the summer of 2007, I returned to Mississippi to look into violence that had taken place near Woodville in the southwest part of the state. After I interviewed an NAACP official, a black woman in her early 70's who owned a shop in the town center stopped me on the street. "You a reporter?" she asked. Before long, she and her husband were sharing stories of violence against blacks in Woodville in the '50's and '60's. They asked if I had ever heard of Man Walker whose given first name was Clifford or Clifton. He was shot in his car on Poor House Road and they thought his children lived nearby in Louisiana.

Since I was on my way to Hattiesburg to do research in the McCain Archives at the University of Southern Mississippi, I couldn't stick around to learn more. Yet at the archives, I found a number of Mississippi Highway and Safety Patrol reports on the Clifton Walker case. The reports were riveting. I had to investigate.

I've located a number of Walker's family members and have been working closely with three of his children since 2008. One daughter, Catherine, has joined me in questioning those with possible involvement in her father's murder. On one occasion there was a surprising moment of reconciliation between Catherine and a member of a white Woodville family. Walker's murder had allegedly been planned at this family's truck stop, and at the end of the interview with the elderly business owner and his daughter, Walker and the other daughter hugged. Catherine had not expected to meet whites from Woodville willing to talk about the murder. This small but significant step toward the closure that she and her siblings need gave us a taste of what might be possible for her family and for this small backwoods Mississippi community that is still largely committed to silence and to protecting murderers.

I tell this story in the Fall 2011 issue of Nieman Reports, which is devoted to cold case reporting. The issue also includes stories by my colleagues from the Civil Rights Cold Case Project:

The issue also includes stories by Simeon Booker, Bill Minor and Jan Gardner.

{ 0 comments }

HONK! Photo Exhibit in Davis Square

I'm honored to again be one of the photographers exhibiting photos of the HONK! Festival at the Inside/Out Gallery, in the windows outside the Davis Square CVS in Somerville, MA. The photos are on display now through the first weekend in October when the 6th Annual HONK! Festival of activist street bands comes to Somerville and Cambridge. Below are three of the photos I have on display, along with photos by Jesse Edsel-Vetter, Greg Cook, Chirs Yeager and Mike Dannenhauer. Stop by and see our photos, if you come through Davis Square. Visit honkfest.org for a full schedule of events and more information about the festival and bands.

Rude Mechanical Orchestra at HONK! 2010 in Davis Sqaure (Ben Greenberg)

Rude Mechanical Orchestra at HONK! 2010 in Davis Sqaure (Ben Greenberg)

DJA-Rara at HONK! 2010 in Harvard Square (Ben Greenberg)

DJA-Rara at HONK! 2010 in Harvard Square (Ben Greenberg)

Extraordinary Rendition Band at HONK! 2010 in the Somerville Theatre (Ben Greenberg)

Extraordinary Rendition Band at HONK! 2010 in the Somerville Theatre (Ben Greenberg)

{ 0 comments }

New York Times reporter Shaila Dewan blogged yesterday that the Justice Department has declined to reopen the Malcolm X murder case.

“Although the Justice Department recognizes that the murder of Malcolm X was a tragedy, both for his family and for the community he served, we have determined that at this time, the matter does not implicate federal interests sufficient to necessitate the use of scarce federal investigative resources into a matter for which there can be no federal criminal prosecution,” the department said.

This was follow up to her reporting in the Times on new attention to the Malcolm X case and new calls to investigate on the heels of the late Manning Marable's recent biography of Malcolm X and in light of the successful prosecutions of  decades old civil rights murder cases in the South.

I'll explain why I think the funding issue is a bit of red herring in a minute. The more important question, which Dewan raises, is why isn't the Justice Department taking up the murder of Malcolm X under the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Act of 2008? "The department, without elaborating, said the crime did not fit the parameters of that act," Dewan reports.

If the Till Act is applied to the Malcolm X case, jurisdiction and funding would not be concerns. A House Judiciary Committee report (PDF) found that though federal prosecution may not be possible in many of the civil rights era crimes addressed by the Act,

Concurrent federal jurisdiction is necessary only to permit joint state-federal investigations and to authorize federal prosecution in those instances in which state and local officials are either unable or unwilling to pursue cases that adequately address the federal interest in fighting bias crime.

This Committee nevertheless expects the federal government to still play a vital role in these prosecutions. First, in terms of investigations, in 2006 the FBI began a comprehensive effort to identify and investigate racially-motivated murders committed during the 1950s and 1960s. The FBI has already started to accumulate information from outside organizations and to follow those leads. We expect this initiative to continue and to expand....

in terms of resources, the federal government has the resources and expertise to provide valuable assistance to state and local entities pursuing state prosecutions. In the Emmett Till case, although no federal jurisdiction was present, the Department conducted an investigation into a local matter because Till had traveled from out-of-state into the state in which he was murdered. The FBI reported the results of its extensive investigation to the District Attorney for Greenville, Mississippi. We expect such cooperation and assistance to continue and to expand into other scenarios. While maintaining the primary role of state and local governments in the investigation and prosecution of violent hate crimes, the bill would authorize the federal government to work in partnership with state and local law enforcement officials and to serve an important backstop function with regard to a wider range of hate-motivated violence than federal law currently permits. (Emphasis added)

Furthermore, FBI spokesperson Christopher Allen has insisted to me in an email that "No case" taken up under the Till Act or the FBI Cold Case Initiative "has suffered as a result of lack of funding."

So if under the Till Act, the FBI is mandated to assist in investigations even where there is no federal jurisdiction, and there is no funding obstacle to federal involvement, then the real question is why won't the Department of Justice consider the Malcolm X murder under the Till Act?

For one, it is not clear if the killing could be considered a civil rights crime because both the perpetrators and the victims are black.

[Historian David] Garrow said the definition of a civil rights crime should not be too narrow. “When a major civil rights leader is assassinated, I’d like the civil rights division to be interested, regardless of the color of the gunman,” he said, referring to the federal unit.

Some experts say the Justice Department’s participation is crucial because the F.B.I. and the New York Police Department had Malcolm X under surveillance at the time of his death, raising questions about whether law enforcement officials had knowledge beforehand of the assassination plot.

It would be a shame if the color of the gunmen became a convenient cover for not examining possible failures of law enforcement to stop a crime officials may have had foreknowledge of; it would also be a shame if avoiding a full investigation allowed a known, alleged perpetrator who currently lives free to evade prosecution.

Here also are two of the thornier obstacles to resolving any number of civil rights era cold cases: black involvement in and government responsibility---direct or indirect---for the crimes. Though the approach to these issues in southern cases has largely been inadequate, it may yet be more palatable to many to consider involvement of blacks who were more widely subject  to subtle and overt forms of coercion in the South and to call up stereotypes of racist southern law enforcement and lawmakers who participated in and/or fomented and supported Klan violence.

The Till Act is meant to address the very problem that most of the cases it covers were never fully investigated at the time they occurred.

David Garrow, a historian and a King biographer, obtained and reviewed the Federal Bureau of Investigation files on Malcolm X in the 1990s. He said it was probable that reams of wiretaps of the Nation of Islam had never been combed for clues. In 1980, the bureau said it had never investigated the assassination.

Without a full investigation, justice will not be done and the truth cannot be known.

(Cross-posted on Colorlines.)

{ 0 comments }
Civil Rights Movement leader Diane Nash speaks on the steps of the Neshoba County Courthouse, Philadelphia, MS, June 23, 2007, at the 43rd annual Mississippi Civil Rights Martyrs Memorial Service, Conference and Caravan. (Photo by Ben Greenberg)

Civil Rights Movement leader Diane Nash speaks on the steps of the Neshoba County Courthouse, Philadelphia, MS, June 23, 2007, at the 43rd annual Mississippi Civil Rights Martyrs Memorial Service, Conference and Caravan. (Photo by Ben Greenberg)

Today and tomorrow in Neshoba County, MS is the annual memorial for James Chaney, Michael Schewerner, Andrew Goodman, and all civil rights era racial murder victims. I first attended in 2005. It is an important, meaningful event that is also an opportunity to meet and listen to famous Civil Rights Movement veterans and many unsung heroes of racial justice.

There's an announcement with details posted on the Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement website. Attached is a more recent and detailed press release (PDF) sent to me by the organizers. The event is free and open to the public.

{ 0 comments }

Alabama Senate Apologizes to Recy Taylor for 1944 Rape Case

The Alabama Senate joined the state House yesterday in passing a resolution for an official state apology to Recy Taylor, 91, who was raped by seven white men in Abbeville, Ala., in 1944. According to the AP:

The Senate gave final approval Thursday on a voice vote to a resolution that expresses “deepest sympathy and deepest regrets” to Recy Taylor, now 91 and living in Florida. She told The Associated Press last year that she believes the men who attacked her in 1944 are dead but that she still wanted an apology from the state of Alabama.

The House approved the resolution last month. It now goes to Gov. Robert Bentley, who said Thursday he’s not personally familiar with details of the case, but sees no reason why he wouldn’t sign it.

Taylor’s case has for decades lingered as an icon of the sexual violence black women suffered from white men in the South. At the time, her case became a rallying point for a movement to end impunity for that violence. Today, federal law enforcement officials have reopened dozens of civil rights era murders, but have not revisited the rapes and sexual assaults that went un-prosecuted.

Taylor, who now lives in Florida, is not well enough to be interviewed, but I spoke to her brother Robert Corbitt, who has been her spokesperson since The Root first reported in February that Taylor wants apologies from the state and from the county and city where the rape occurred and was covered up. Corbitt is currently a resident of Abbeville.

“I’m glad to know that it’s gone that far,” Corbitt said. “I’m waiting for the ink to dry and then I’ll feel like it’s official.”

Recent public interest in Taylor’s case has followed the September 2010 publication of Danielle McGuire’s book, “At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance,” which tells Taylor’s story. AChange.org petition drive and coverage by Colorlines and others has spurred Rep. Dexter Grimsley and other Alabama officials to respond swiftly to Taylor’s request for formal apologies.

A month ago, Corbitt attended a press conference held by Abbeville Mayor Ryan Blalock with Grimsley and other city and county officials, who offered personal apologies to Taylor and discussed issuing official state, county and city apologies.

“Our representative [Grimsley] said from the beginning that he was going to push it hard; he kept his word,” said Corbitt. “I’m still waiting for the mayor to do whatever he’s gonna do.”

County and city apologies are also in order, Cobitt explained, because in 1944, in the face of a state investigation, the Henry County sheriff and an Abbeville policeman took part in covering up the rape.

Corbitt hasn’t heard from Blalock or any other local officials since the press conference last month. “A personal apology and a official one is two different things,” said Corbitt.

(Cross-posted at Colorlines.)

{ 0 comments }

Alabama House Approves Apology for Recy Taylor

The Alabama House made an historic move Tuesday evening towards a state apology to Recy Taylor, 91, who was gang raped by 7 white men in Abbeville, Ala., in 1944. The AP reports:

The House on Tuesday approved by an apparent unanimous voice vote a resolution that expresses “deepest sympathies and solemn regrets” to Recy Taylor….

Her 74-year-old brother, Robert Corbitt, who still lives in Abbeville, said he was happy his sister was finally going to get what she wanted — an apology.

The strongly worded resolution said the failure of Alabama law enforcement and the court system to prosecute the crimes “was, and is “morally abhorrent and repugnant.”

It was introduced by freshman Rep. Dexter Grimsley, D-Newville. It now goes to the Senate, where Democratic Sen. Billy Beasley, D-Clayton, who also represents Abbeville, said he expects it to pass.

“The most important thing is to say we are sorry and we hope you are doing well. … It’s important we move on in Alabama,” Beasley said.

Grimsley’s resolution was spurred by revelations of Taylor’s story by Danielle McGuire in her book “At Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance,” published last fall, and by a Change.org petition to Alabama officials, launched in February after The Root’s Cynthia Gordy reported that Taylor, now living in Florida, and her brother wanted the state of Alabama and the city Abbeville to apologize for officials’ inaction and obstruction of justice. After Colorlines broke the news earlier this month that Grimsley was planning to introduce a resolution, signatures skyrocketed on the petition. Grimsley, Abbeville Mayor Ryan Blalock and other local officials held a press conference, where they made personal apologies to Taylor and declared that formal apologies were on the way.

Taylor’s case has for decades lingered as an icon of the sexual violence black women suffered from white men in the South. At the time, her case became a rallying point for a movement to end impunity for that violence. Today, federal law enforcement officials have reopened dozens of civil rights era murders, but have not revisited the rapes and sexual assaults that went un-prosecuted.

Grimsley’s resolution reads in part (scroll down for full text):

WHEREAS, this deplorable lack of justice remains a shame for all Alabamians; now therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF ALABAMA, BOTH HOUSES THEREOF CONCURRING, That we acknowledge the lack of prosecution for crimes committed against Recy Taylor by the government of the State of Alabama, that we declare such failure to act was, and is, morally abhorrent and repugnant, and that we do hereby express profound regret for the role played by the government of the State of Alabama in failing to prosecute the crimes.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That we express our deepest sympathies and solemn regrets to Recy Taylor and her family and friends.

Grimsley “now vows to take the official House resolution to her Florida doorstep,” according to Change.org’s Alex DiBranco.

“I’m excited for the family,” Grimsley told Change.org following the vote. “I’m excited that I could have the resolution introduced and at least get it through the House, that I had the opportunity to do something for a resident of my district and a former resident of my district.”

“It’s not ‘justice,’ but a big step and all she’s asked for,” The Root’s Gordy tweeted this morning. I concur—though it’s not quite all Recy Taylor has asked for. There is still no news regarding an official apology from the city of Abbeville or from Henry County.

*This article has been altered since publication.

(Cross-posted at Colorlines.)

FULL TEXT OF HOUSE RESOLUTION (download as PDF)

EXPRESSING REGRET FOR THE STATE OF ALABAMA’S INVOLVEMENT IN THE FAILURE TO PROSECUTE CRIMES COMMITTED AGAINST RECY TAYLOR.

WHEREAS, on September 3, 1944, in the small Town of Abbeville, Alabama, Recy Taylor, a young Black mother was walking home from church with her companions when she was confronted by a car of seven white men; the men forced Ms. Taylor into the car at knife and gunpoint, drove off, and six of the seven men brutally raped her in a deserted grove of pine trees; and

WHEREAS, Taylor’s younger brother, Robert Corbitt, of Abbeville, said he remembers the day his sister was raped 67 years ago like it was yesterday, saying the police tried to blame his sister, and the family was harassed so that he was not allowed to play in the front yard; and

WHEREAS, an all white, all male grand jury failed to bring any charges for indictment; and then Governor Chauncey Sparks ordered a second investigation, and the grand jury again failed to indict; and

WHEREAS, the case got the attention of NAACP activist Rosa Parks, who interviewed Taylor in 1944 in Abbeville and later recruited other activists to create the “Alabama Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor”; and

WHEREAS, in an interview last year with the AP, Recy Taylor, who now resides in Florida, said she eventually gave up trying to bring charges against the men; and

WHEREAS, this deplorable lack of justice remains a source of shame for all Alabamians; now therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF ALABAMA, BOTH HOUSES THEREOF CONCURRING, That we acknowledge the lack of prosecution for crimes committed against Recy Taylor by the government of the State of Alabama, that we declare such failure to act was, and is, morally abhorrent and repugnant, and that we do hereby express profound regret for the role played by the government of the State of Alabama in failing to prosecute the crimes.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That we express our deepest sympathies and solemn regrets to Recy Taylor and her family and friends.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That it is the specific intent of the Legislature that reparations shall not be considered or made regarding past actions of the government of the State of Alabama concerning the lack of prosecution of the crimes committed against Recy Taylor, and that this resolution shall not be used or construed in any manner whatsoever as support for such reparations.

{ 1 comment }

Recy Taylor Gets a Personal Sorry, But No Apology From Alabama

Recy Taylor, 91, in her home in Winter Haven, Fla., in October 2010. AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File

Recy Taylor, 91, in her home in Winter Haven, Fla., in October 2010. AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File

Yesterday, Abbeville city and Alabama state officials held a press conference at the Henry County Courthouse to express their sympathy for Recy Taylor, 91, a former Abbeville resident who was gang raped there by seven white men in 1944. But the officials made clear the apologies were personal rather than on behalf of the city or state. That leaves Taylor and her family still awaiting some modicum of justice for an assault that, then and now, has become a symbol for untold numbers of rapes southern black women suffered throughout the Jim Crow era.

Last week, I reported for Colorlines on a building effort, led by Taylor’s family, to win an apology for the failure to meaningfully investigate and prosecute her assailants.

Local TV station WTVY reports on Monday’s press conference:

Public officials are now giving the victim and her family personal apologies for the events of that era.

“I open my heart up and say that I am deeply sorry for what happened,” says AL Representative Dexter Grimsley.

“Anytime one of our residents whether past or present feels pain or feels victimized we certainly want to offer that apology,” says Abbeville Mayor Ryan Blalock.

Following the press conference, Taylor’s brother Robert Corbitt told me by phone, “While I’m pleased with the mayor’s apology, it’s nothing official. We were looking for an official one from the city, the state and the county.”

“I did hear the representative say he was gonna get a resolution in to the state,” Corbitt said, “but I never heard the mayor say that he was going to present it to the city council. He just said it must come from the city council. He never said anything about when he was gonna do it.”

State and city governments are often reluctant to issue official apologies for past injustices for fear that it will leave them vulnerable to civil suits.

Rep. Grimsley reaffirmed Monday his intent to introduce a House resolution calling for a state apology to Recy Taylor “before the session is out.” The current legislative session started March 1 and goes about another six weeks, Grimsley said.

Recent overtures by city and state government officials towards Recy Taylor and her family follow mounting public interest in Taylor’s case, starting with the September 2010 publication of Danielle McGuire’s book, “At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance,” which tells Taylor’s story.

Recy Taylor and Robert Corbitt first publicly conveyed their wishes for city and state apologies in a Feb. 9 article about Taylor by Cynthia Gordy in The Root. On Feb. 16, after reading Gordy’s article, Change.org editor Alex DiBranco launched a petition asking Alabama government officials for city and state apologies to Taylor. Corbitt has since put the petition under his name.

After 12 days, the Change.org petition gathered 1,000 signatures. When Colorlines broke the news on March 16 that Grimsley is planning to introduce a resolution for a state apology, the petition was up to 2,100 signatures. Signatures more than doubled in the first 24 hours after the Colorlines article and additional coverage by the AP and the Root. At this writing, the petition has more than 7,100 signatures.

Grimsley has told the AP that he became interested in Taylor’s case partly because of the Change.org petition.

(Cross-posted at Colorlines.)

{ 0 comments }