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Public Statements

Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act Of 2007

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


EMMETT TILL UNSOLVED CIVIL RIGHTS CRIME ACT OF 2007 -- (House of Representatives - June 20, 2007)

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(Mr. HULSHOF asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)

Mr. HULSHOF. Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend for yielding me the time this morning.

Mr. Speaker, in 1963, while confined in the Birmingham city jail, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote a letter to eight Alabama clergymen regarding his recent demonstrations. In that letter, Dr. King eloquently wrote: ``Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'' Dr. King's words ring true today in this debate on H.R. 923, the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act. We can no longer stand by and allow those civil rights cold cases to collect dust on our shelves. As a Nation, we owe it to the victims and their families and the country generally to provide them with long overdue justice.

Before I begin, I see waiting in the wings my good friend and colleague, the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Lewis). His diligence and perseverance on this legislation has been instrumental in getting us here today.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for considering this bill.

It is truly an honor to stand in league with my friend from Georgia as we began this bill, actually, this trek in the last session of Congress, and certainly he is a giant in the civil rights legislation and it is a privilege for me, Mr. Lewis, to stand with you on this bill.

I also want to thank Alvin Sykes, who is the president of the Emmett Till Justice Campaign, and also former Senator Jim Talent from Missouri. Had it not been for them, I don't think we would be standing here today. Mr. Sykes was inspirational in opening the Emmett Till case, for whom this legislation is named. He came to Senator Talent two years ago with the idea that ultimately spawned this legislation.

I think in the short time of this calendar year, a couple of months ago we commemorated as a Nation the 150-year anniversary of the Dred Scott decision. As the gentleman from Michigan eloquently stated a moment ago, there have been chapters in our country's history that are not proud chapters, and yet we cannot turn past those chapters in the book of history, but instead must focus and right wrongs.

For those of you who don't know the story of Emmett Till, Emmett was a 14-year-old African American boy from Chicago who spent his summer vacation with relatives in Mississippi. One afternoon, young Emmett spotted a Caucasian woman and allegedly whistled. For this indiscretion he was kidnapped from his house, brutally beaten, and thrown into a river with weights around his neck. And although Emmett's murderers were quickly arrested and placed on trial, the jury acquitted them and they walked out of the courtroom as free men. What makes this story even more tragic is that about a year later, one of the murderers confessed to his guilty conduct, without remorse no less, in an interview in Look magazine.

As an original cosponsor of this bill, I rise today to express my strong support for this legislation as I hope it will help bring closure to countless families who continue to suffer from injustices perpetrated so long ago. As has been noted, this legislation will establish an Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Investigative Office within the FBI to investigate these pre-1970 cases in conjunction with, that is, in conjunction with, State and local authorities. H.R. 923 will also create an Unsolved Crime Section to prosecute these cold cases.

In my previous life as a prosecutor, I tried some three dozen or so murder cases. And with any trial, particularly murder trials, time is of the essence. And that is especially true with cold cases that this legislation addresses. Over the past nearly 20 years, we have had 29 unsolved civil rights murder cases that have been reopened, reexamined. Thankfully, 22 convictions have resulted. We have seen justice brought to the families of Henry Dee and Charlie Moore, who were only 19 when they were murdered. What were their infractions that caused this horrific end to their lives? Henry and Charlie were believed to have knowledge about African Americans importing firearms into the country. And for this James Ford Seale and a group of fellow Klansmen kidnapped Henry and Charlie, took them into the woods, brutally beat them, and drove them into Parker's Landing in Mississippi. Henry was tied to an engine block and thrown into the Mississippi River, still alive. Charlie had to sit there and watch his friend drown, knowing that his fate would be no different. Their bodies were found several months later, Henry still tied to the engine block, Charlie to a pile of iron weights.

After more than 40 years, James Ford Seale was finally held accountable for his actions, convicted just last week for his role in the murders. A fellow Klansman was given immunity in exchange for testifying about Seale's role in the murders.

The Nation has witnessed the conviction of Edgar Ray Killen for his part in the murders of civil rights activists Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Cheney. Ironically, tomorrow, June 21, actually marks the anniversary of those murders.

We have recently seen authorities reexamine the murders of Johnnie Mae Chappell in Florida and Jimmie Lee Jackson in Alabama and hopefully, hopefully, with the enactment of H.R. 923, many more.

Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall once said: ``Justice too long delayed is justice denied.'' I urge all my colleagues to support this legislation so we can continue to help heal the Nation, rectify the inequities of the past, and provide justice to those who have been seemingly forgotten.

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