Back in 2015, Emory University professor Hank Klibanoff got firsthand experience with how hard it has been to get information on civil rights cold cases.
The professor had sent a request to the FBI asking for information on the murder of Isaiah Nixon, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. But he was told they had no records of the case after Nixon was shot and killed in front of his children for voting in the 1948 Georgia Democratic primary.
After sending another request to the National Archives, they sent the Pulitzer Prize winner and former newspaper editor back a lengthy report explaining why there is little to no account on old cold cases.
“Anyone who wanted to get federal government records on civil rights cold cases ran into bureaucratic hurdles,” Klibanoff said. “It wasn’t that they didn’t want to be cooperative. It is just that over the years, nobody kept good records.”
On Friday, the White House announced that they have added four scholars to the Civil Rights Cold Case Records Review Board. The board was launched under the Trump administration but no action was taken in allocating the project’s $1 million funding.
The board will consist of a panel of five and President Biden has already nominated four people for the slots. Klibanoff is among the four, along with Stanford professor Clayborne Carson, Emory University instruction archivist Gabrielle Dudley, and civil rights lawyer and former state judge Margaret Burnham.
“There are those of us who have been working in this field for a good while now who have been trying to unearth this history case by case, but we haven’t had much government support,” Burnham said. “What we are trying to look at is the nature, scope and effect of violence in the mid decades of the 20th century. Until we have a full sense of that, we won’t really have a sense of Jim Crow. And until we understand Jim Crow, we won’t understand where we are today.”
Once the official board is in place, they will work to review numerous unsolved civil rights cases from the 1950s and 1960s.
Their hope is to “declassify government files and subpoena new testimony in the hopes of reopening cases or revealing publicly why many were never fully investigated.”