The Southern Poverty Law Center lauded yesterday's arrest of a white former sheriff's deputy in one of the last major unsolved crimes of the civil rights era.
Federal authorities have charged James Ford Seale, 71, with kidnapping in connection with the Ku Klux Klan's abduction and slaying of Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore in Mississippi nearly 43 years ago. Both were 19. Their names are among the 40 martyrs inscribed on the Civil Rights Memorial at the Center's headquarters in Montgomery, Ala.
"This arrest should send shudders through the ranks of others who committed heinous hate crimes but have not yet faced justice," said Center president Richard Cohen. "It also sends a powerful message to black people in Mississippi and the South that America will not forget their sacrifices or the terror they endured during their march to freedom."
Dee and Moore disappeared while hitchhiking along a Franklin County road on May 2, 1964. Their unrecognizable bodies were discovered in July in the Mississippi River during the massive search for three civil rights workers murdered in Neshoba County.
Two reputed Klansmen -- Seale and Charles Marcus Edwards -- were arrested for the murders. Both had connections with the Mississippi White Knights, the South's most violent Klan organization.
Edwards confessed to the crime, telling the FBI at the time he and Seale abducted the two young men and took them deep into the Homochitto National Forest, where they beat them unconscious. They loaded their victims into a car and drove to the Louisiana side of the river. After tying heavy weights, including a Jeep motor block, to their bodies, they threw them in.
The FBI gave the confession and other evidence to state prosecutors, who were responsible for bringing murder charges against Seale and Edwards. But a justice of the peace dismissed all charges without explanation and without presenting evidence to a grand jury.
As years passed, the killings of the two were mostly forgotten. Seale and Edwards continued to live in Franklin County.
In 1998, the dragging death of James Byrd in Texas rekindled Thomas Moore's memories of his younger brother, and he began a crusade to have the case reopened.
"I've been crying. First time I've cried in about 50 years," Thomas Moore told the Associated Press yesterday. "It's not going to bring his life back. But some way or another, I think he would be satisfied."
Yesterday's arrest was the latest attempt by prosecutors in the South to close the books on civil rights era crimes that went unpunished. Since 1989, the year the Civil Rights Memorial was dedicated in honor of 40 who died during the Civil Rights Movement, authorities in Mississippi and six other states have re-examined 29 killings from that era, leading to a total of 28 arrests and 22 convictions.
No charges are expected against Edwards, who has been interviewed by the FBI and, according to news reports, may be a witness against Seale.