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tv   Investigative Journalism Civil Rights  CSPAN  August 28, 2021 12:26am-1:33am EDT

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investigative reporting workshop, black alumni alliance hosting this event. it's just under an hour. >> good evening and welcome. hi name is charles louis. welcome here at american university school of communication led by dean jeffrey rudenbeck.
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this important event is co-sponsored by the black alumni alliance. the mission of the black alum -- alumni is to create a community that identify with black and african heritage diaspora for meaningful engagement toward greater awareness, pride, participation, volunteer involvement and commitment to american university. we're pleased to have a number of alliance members here tonight include alliance president
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gordon andrew. special thanks to dr. sherry williams who will interview him on the stage of his presentation of about 20 minutes. he was an investigative reporter for 30 years. his stories have helped put four ku klux klans men and a suspected serial killer behind bars. his stories helped lead to the release of two people from mississippi's death row.
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he is finishing his memomemoir. he is co-founder and director of the mississippi center for investigative reporting. earlier a degree in english with a concentration in journalism from jackson state university and mississippi. interestingly, she also worked for a few years at the clarion ledger newspaper in jackson, mississippi. her work focuses on how marginalized groups, especially women of color are portrayed in
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the media. jerry will talk about his remarkable civil rights reporting these past three decades. then we'll open it up for questions from the audience. so, you're on. thank you. [ applause ] >> thank you so much. appreciate it, chuck and thank you american university. looking forward to talking with you. great to be with y'all. let's back this up.
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one of them you may have heard about and one you may not have heard about. it involves medger evers. he fought in world war ii. fighting the nazis and returned home to mississippi to fight racism all over again. african-americans were barred from restaurants, restrooms. he's before brown versus board of education.
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bumper stickers said don't buy gas or you can't use the restroom. he came home from world war ii and on his 21st birthday, went with a group of african-americans to go vote at the courthouse and were turned away by white men with guns. he said i vow that day, i would never be whipped again. he applied to the university of mississippi to attend law school. he was turned away.
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put about 40,000 miles a year on his oldsmobile. he went to naacp branches. he got involved in voting rights. he was involved in the protests and sit ins that took place in downtown jackson, including he was involved in the sit in but the organization with the students.
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mike is here. we wrote a book about that. glad to have y'all here. on the same night that president kennedy told the nation that the grandsons of slaves were still not free, medgar came home and was shot in the back in his own driverway. his wife, children heard the shot, ran outside and saw his blood and screamed. he was pronounced dead within an hour or so. 26 years later i'm standing with his assassin. this is outside his home in
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signal mount, tennessee where i went to visit him. i came because i was obsessed. i don't know if you're like me but if someone tells me i can't have something, i want it a million times worse. they seal all those records for 50 years. i'm talking about more than 132,000 pages of records that were sealed by mississippi lawmakers and many being kind of a cynical and suspicious reporter thought, i bet there's something in there.
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they were secreting defending him trying to get him acquitted. nobody knew that mp. at the time my story ran, odds were more than a million to one against the case ever being reopened. have to find a box that contained a crime scene photographs of the killing of medgar evers. a few months after that, the
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prosecutor in case found the murder weapon in his father-in-law's closet which sounds like i'm make it up. i know. it really did happen. as i mentioned, i went to go visit him. he lived in tennessee. this was april of 1990. i can honestly say he was the most racist person i ever spent serious time with. n word this, n word that. he started on other non-white races. he was very anti-semitic as well. believed that jews were satanic. by the end of the conversation, i felt i needed a bath. it was getting dark. i thought it was a good time to
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leave. he insisted on walking me out to the car. i'm like, really, that's okay. i think i can find my way. i'm just at the end of the driveway. if you write negative things about white caucasian christians, god will punish you. if god will not punish you directly, several individuals will do it for him. his wife had made me a sandwich. i think you can guess what i did with the sandwich. he was indicted in december of 1990. this is months later. he's i dieted in the murder of
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medgar evers. at the moment, remember this is all pre-internet. he did not realize i was the one that got the story that got the case reopened when i went and visited him. he said by this time, he had figured it out. he saw me across the courtroom and goes see that over there. when he dies, he's going to africa. i turned to my friend, you know, i always wanted to go to africa. not surprisingly, byron was convicted on february 5th, 1994 in the exact same courtroom he had been tried in almost 30 years today. when the word guilty rang out, you could hear the waves of joy
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as they cascaded down the hall. i felt chills because the impossible had become possible. not too long after he was indicted in 1990, i met with this lady. he had about 200 acres that they grew cotton and other crops
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with. that's how he became a target of the klans men back in 1966. the klan attacked him and his family in the middle of the night. can you imagine being sleeping and the middle of the night and this is what it was like for vernon's family. the klan fire bombed their home. set their house on fire. they began firing their guns into the house. he died later that day. a few weeks later in the mail came his voter registration card. he had fought his whole life for the right of all americans to be able to vote but never been able
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to cast a ballot himself. the guy who ordered the killing, oh, by the way, this is what his sons. four sons in the military and this is what they came home to. in fact, vernon, six of his seven sons served a total of 78 years of service for this country. isn't this amazing? heartbreaking photo. taken by -- this photograph was taken by chris mcnair. whon if you know who chris mcnair is. the father of denise mcnair who was killed in the birmingham church bombing.
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bowers tried but never convicted in this case. he had an excuse and when that got taken care of, he had another excuse. when that got taken care of, he had another excuse. you get the picture. then another district attorney came in and they were like starting over from square one. it looked like nothing was going to happen. i got a fellowship to ohio state to get my masters. they would pay me and let me go for my masters for free. i thought that sounds like a good deal. i'm in ohio in spring of 1997 when we get this telephone call from this guy who wasn't identify himself, wouldn't give me his name but wanted to meet with me.
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i met with him we met in this motel room that wreaked of chlorine. this guy had worked for sam bowers. he was the guy that typed up the propaganda. he told us that and we met with the district attorney. the case got reopened. this was in 97. i was researching how much time
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these guys like pits actually served in prison. it was a bit of a joke. the ones convicted didn't spend much time in prison. i was researching each one of those and got to him. i was checking with the federal bureau of prisons to see how much federal time he did. i understand he got a five year federal sentence. how much time do you serve. he said three and a half years. i said okay. she says, there was no federal witness protection program back
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then. which meant billy pits never served a single day of his life sentence in mississippi. kind of a big over sight. you don't hear about that one every day. i didn't know if he was dead or alive. i got on the internet. most internet sites i knew you had to have a city and a state. i didn't know that. there was one side i knew where you didn't have to have that and kind of typed in his name. up it popped. it had his address and telephone number. i called him. first 20 minutes of the conversation went like this, how did you find me. how did you find me? i was like it's on the internet. >> i got an unlisted telephone number. >> guess you have to take it up
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with them. mississippi authorities issued a warrant for his arrest. he didn't like that. in fact, he ran. while on the run he sent me this audio cassette. this is how it began. jerry, i thought i ought to let you know, you've ruined my life. i promise if i talk to anybody, i'd talk to you. here is this tape. this was in may of 1998. he was arrested with his right hand guy.
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thigh wheeled him in in the wheelchair. you see the tall green oxygen tank, the whole bit. they wheel him in front of the judge. he's like i can't take more than a couple steps without needing oxygen, judge. judge is like, well, i normally don't do this but i'm going to let you out without bond. a dozen days later, this is like a reporter's dream. this is where we caught him. he got arrested. yeah, he loved me. fast forward, sam bowers goes on trial and guess who is there to testify on his behalf but mr. golfer. i don't mean this as a cruel
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detail but i'll tell you this any way. okay. his lawyer is this really good criminal defense lawyer back in the 1960s. by this point, the guy is in his 80s. it's great. it's great. the reason for that detail will be more apparent later. he's talking, he's trying to work out a signaling system. you know you can claim your fifth amendment right at any time. they're just trying to work out signaling system on this. he's talking to this client. when you get up there, you need to take the fifth. i'm going to raise my hand. he's like okay. he's wearing the same golf cap which just cracked me up. he gets up and starts testifying. i looked over at his lawyer
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about five minutes later, his lawyer was like [ snoring ] >> he kept right on testifying. i was in the klan. he tried to put a positive spin on it like there is one. the klan was a benevolent organization, passing out fruit baskets to the needy at christmas. the prosecutor said, mr. nix, just how many fruit baskets did you pass out? >> he said, sad to say, none. i swear it was the funniest trial i ever covered in my life as a reporter. deadly serious matter pu funny trial. he was not just a lawyer for the klan, he was a leader in the
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klan. he was indicted in fire bomb at one point. billy roy testified. buckley asked him about it. it's like, now mr. pitts, who all was at that planning meeting. he's like, let's see. i was there. sam bowers was there. you were there. buckley's like, objection, your honor. i've covered a lot of trials in my life. this is the only trial where will the witness implicated the defense lawyer. not surprisingly sam bowers was convicted august 21st, 1998.
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the thing is the hate that caused this, right, if we're really honest in this country, it's never gone away. it wasn't that just a few years ago, right, that a young man walked into this church in charleston and killed these nine beautiful people. and it wasn't that long ago, either, down in charlottesville, right, that we had happened what we had happen not that far from here. it's easy to think it's not that easy to happen around here, right? but myself i have had -- i have had my share of, you know, death threats and things like that, people sent pictures of me and my family and knew where we lived and things like that. sure, that's converting, you never want to hear things like that, but it led to an
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unexpected gift and that's the gift of living fearlessly. living fiercely is not about living without fear, it's about living fearlessly is living beyond fear, isn't it? it's about living for something greater than ourselves, right? to date now there have been 24 convictions in these civil rights cases across the country. and, you know, i don't know -- this is -- anyway, i am a person of faith and i do believe that god's hands have been involved in these cases but the most amazing case i've witnessed has not been the convictions which might surprise you, the most amazing thing has been some of the racial reconciliation. not too long after same bowers was convicted billy ray pitts
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testified in a hearing and when he got done he walked to the back of the courtroom and he ran into mrs. damar. billy roy pitts apologized to mrs. damar and asked her to forgive him for killing her husband. and she forgave him. and she began to cry. he began to cry. isn't that really what it's all about, redemption, trying to make things right even when they've gone so terribly wrong in the past. may god bless you in your journey of redemption. thanks so much.
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>> this is my contact information in case you want it and every day on facebook and twitter i post today in civil rights history if you are so inclined and or you can email me. >> good to see a cl alum. >> it's a regular clarion-ledger reunion. >> which is. we should just bring the rest of you up. so i want to start off by asking you a question about one of the biggest stories that you covered along the way which was the release of the records for the sovereignty commission. >> yes. >> you mentioned to the audience before and just to remind folks it was a state agency. >> yes, it was. >> is that set up, specifically to spy. >> yes. >> on people working toward dismantling white supremacy in
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the state of mississippi. >> yes. >> but you put -- you spent a lot of time focusing on the sovereignty commission. >> i did. >> and how the state itself -- >> yes. >> -- had a real serious role in maintaining oppression in mississippi. and you also mentioned how there were judges, sheriffs, just people in all different sorts of positions of power that were working to make sure that not only that people were not punished for killing black people and committing this vigilante violence, but also ensuring that they could continue to do this. >> yes. >> right? so talk about how important it was to show how the state as a government body played a strong role in making sure that all this could continue to happen and also maybe for some of the reporters and students talk about how it's important to still make those kind of connections today in journalism. >> sure. i think that was part of what i was trying to do. i kind of first got these leaks
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in kind of segments. i didn't get them all at once in '89 and then by the end of '89 i loaded up my honda hatchback with 2400 pagers of the sovereignty commission's greatest hits. that's the kind of things they showed. they got people fired from their jobs, they would smear them, smear civil rights workers with the hope of driving them out of the state and rendering them ineffective and things like that. they were trying to, quote, catch him in an illegal act. there were so many things that they did. of course, just because they wrote it down, doesn't make it true. a lot of times they would go and harass someone and of course if you read the record it would be like, oh, we went and talked to so-and-so. well, no, they didn't just go and talk to so-and-so. so it was -- the sovereignty commission had two arms, one was
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a propaganda arm and so they would send white speakers who would willingly volunteer and send them up north and then they would send black speakers unbeknownst, it wasn't public knowledge, they were being paid. they would go up north and they would both say the same thing which would be, oh, we love segregation, we love jim crow and we want to keep it the way it is, but obviously the records themselves reflected what was really going on. so i think it's very important. the other part i mentioned the governors heading it, but really the sovereignty commission itself was all of its top leaders of state government were part of the sovereignty commission, it was the lieutenant governor, the state treasurer, all the major offices were a part of that sovereignty commission as well as some others as well. they would share information, i will give a simple example. so the sovereignty commission spied on mickey and his wife
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rita three months prior to the klan killing them. okay. so you would think, well, okay, they spied on them, but here is what happened, they did these spy reports on what all they were doing, what they were driving around in, their license tag number, all that kind of stuff, gave it to the meridian police department, which you don't necessarily think anything about that, either, except when i tell you this detail, more than half the people that worked for the meridian police department were in the kkk. in fact, one of the main shooters in the murder party of the three civil rights workers was alan wayne roberts whose brother lee was on the meridian police department. so you follow saying there was very close connection between the sovereignty commission and -- >> there was almost no distinction. >> correct. >> so now i want to talk about the story telling a little bit and specifically sources because
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i know that you have a very strong relationship with mara lee evers that goes beyond just a reporter who covers a trial. i think your work has been really important because if anyone knows the history of the clarion-ledger that when all this was happening before it was called "the clarion-ledger" and when it was owned by the headerman family we talked about the state being complicit in allowing some of this brutality to exist but what was before it became the clarion-ledger was really a strong proponent of segregation. and when you were doing these stories 20, 30 years later, it was probably the first time we actually really heard the voices of the survivors of the civil rights people who were killed. so can you talk about how you were able to even develop those relationships when these people were alive and they knew years
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before that this paper was ignoring everything that was happening and even supporting it, but then later you were coming to do these stories. so how were you able to do that, develop those relationships? >> well, that's a great question. i mean, i wish mara lee was here to answer it. i began to develop a relationship with her and her family. i think she just trusted me over time. i think initially it's kind of what's this white boy up to, which i would say, too, in that context. and knew very much like you're talking about, the history of the clarion-ledger and jackson daily news which are -- i think one of the things we did that really helped with that was part of what i got out of the sovereignty commission papers was information on our own newspaper. and so we did a story on ourselves and exposed what the clarion-ledger did back then. they were actually getting sovereignty commission reports up until like 1968 directly.
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and they were publishing them verbatim sometimes and or they were killing stories or running stories at the request of the sovereignty commission. so we published all of that. i mean, that's one of the things i said to the editors, we have to publish this -- somebody is going to publish this at some point, i thought we needed to do it and actually i wanted us to do an editorial and apologize. i didn't convince them on that point, but i still think it would have been the right thing to do. >> so you talked about redemption a little bit earlier and it seems as if the state of mississippi and other southern states are not only trying to express some redemption or at least come to grips with the horrible and violent legacy that they had in terms of civil rights by actually celebrating the history, by acknowledging it and there is a series of national and state markers. there was the recent opening of the mississippi civil rights museum.
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so actually acknowledging what happened and trying to celebrate and amplify it in some sort of way is something that we've seen happen a lot of these southern states, but part of the redemption and the reconciliation is because there have been actual convictions. >> yes. >> because of the work that you've done. so can you talk about how you feel about how your work fits into the legacy of the history of mississippi. >> i think what's important is the first thing, before you have reconciliation you have to have truth. you have to have truth. i think it's been part of the problem that the truth hasn't been told. i mean, how many students learned about this in school and i think that's one of the reasons i do this on my facebook page and twitter pages because every day when i post these things i'm kind of amazed by how many people both black and white say i never knew this. so it's history as i always put
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it, it's not just black history, this is american history and i'm amazed by how it's just not being taught. the civil rights movement often gets reduced to this in schools that rosa parks sat down and martin luther king stood up. that's kind of what happens, the way it gets taught, but what gets left out, for example, is rosa parks wasn't actually the first one to refuse to give up her seat. there were four before her. claudette colvin was the first one and she was only 15 years old. they together, those four ladies their work led to the historic lawsuit that resulted in the desegregation of city buses, but
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people don't know their names. to me that's important. to not just know the names of martin luther king as we should or rosa parks as we should but to know the names and the stories of so many others and i think the mississippi civil rights museum if i can say this i feel like it's excellent. who else has been to the civil rights museum in mississippi? anybody? i actually have several who have been there. and it's -- i think it's excellent among the regional civil rights museum. obviously the one here in d.c. is superb. >> so you talked a little bit about earning the trust of your sources and i thought it was really interesting when you said that mara lee evers is bond wing what is this white dude doing, why should i trust this white dude, who is he? >> we're having to think
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consciously about their position in stories and their identities and the intersection of their identities and the power that they possess, regardless of what those identities are, and how that can affect the story telling and the ways that they can even approach people or do approach people. so i wonder if you can talk a little bit about your position as a white journalist, a white man journalist, writing these stories and how that came into play while you were doing this work. >> well, on one hand it was, you know, it might have been a detriment from a standpoint of, you know, relating to mara lee evers and others, on the other hand it was maybe an asset from the perspective of -- wouldn't have talked to me if i had been a black journalist. so i had that advantage. you know, i'm a southerner, you know, they've got the picture in the dictionary of the white wasp, you know, that would be me
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and so, you know, i qualify on those -- on those accounts. so i think you use those to your advantage in aspects and then the other -- i think what happened, what hipped me was mara lee evers could see that i was honest and i was trying to tell the truth and saw all the stories i did and so she began to -- she trusted me. actually began to trust me pretty quickly once she started seeing the stories and saw what my quotes of her and our conversations. and that's kind of what happens i think anyway as a reporter. you begin to have these conversations with your sources and this will sound strange, but people who have been long-time reporters know who i'm talking about. you begin to have conversations beyond the story. you begin to find out about them as people and they begin to find out about you as people and i think those are the connections we've got to begin to have before people begin to trust you. so i mentioned truth has to come
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first and then the other thing is if justice is possible, we work toward that. and then that's when you can begin to have reconciliation. i don't think that can happen before then, until truth is told, until there are attempts at justice or some kind of amends, then reconciliation can take place. i don't think it can really happen earlier than that. >> i want to ask you one more question before we open it up to the audience. >> sure. >> that is for students who are interested in doing this kind of work, not necessarily civil rights, but social justice and racial justice kind of journalism, what advice do you have for them? because i think there are people that they're modeling their careers after, i know for me i was a sophomore at jackson state in 1994 during the byron beckwith trial and seeing your work in the paper every day was
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inspirational for me. are there any ideas that you can -- suggestions that you can share with them for things that they probably need to be doing, skills that they need to sharpen or even journalists that they should follow in books or a series to read. >> wow. i don't know if i can answer all that at once. i will try my best. for me personally it was kind of became wood woord and bernstein, i read all the president's men and someone had given me the advice to study how they use attribution. that was, i thought, a pretty good piece of advice. so i began to do that and that became a premer for me. i think there are so many talented journalists. i know that there's a website now, you know, investigating power, which i recommend. go and look at those videos of some tremendously talented journalists. and there are a lot, you know, modern day ones like, you know,
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nicole hannah jones and people like that that do tremendous work. and essays. i mean, follow the people you like and who you want to imitate and i think that's what you do. you follow their work, you read their work, you learn from them. they kind of become your teachers that way. i think sometimes we think, oh, i have to be formally taught by somebody. you can read somebody's work and be taught by somebody and that's a good way to begin to learn. okay, here is someone i really like their writing, what it is that -- why is it that i like liar writing and kind of study it. i think students can learn on all levels from reading lots of people's work hopefully. >> so now let's open it up to the audience for questions. >> mr. mitchell, thank you so
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much for coming here. you touched upon charlottesville. there was a front-page story this weekend, i don't recall if it was the "washington post" or "the new york times," depicting the illusiveness of one sunglasses and one red beard, high resolution pictures, good pictures. could you share insight as to how bad people like that can be so allusive in terms of being captured? >> thank you. >> that's a great question. you know, i don't know, that's probably a question for law enforcement. i don't really understand. i'm like you, i'm kind of baffled by this whole thing. i don't know. you know, you would think that would be more easily solvable in those situations. i mean, the other part is i don't understand in general sometimes why law enforcement doesn't take advantage of media along those lines, do you know
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what i mean? that, you know, there's -- there's a power to be had. i think sometimes they don't take advantage. you used to see a lot more of that why they would put out photos or sketches and help us find this person, you know, that kind of thing and the press would eagerly disseminate it. i don't know that i have an answer for it. >> hi. my name is star, i am a senior here at american university. so my question that i have for you is especially being in the midst of, i mean, these cases while they were happening and when they were new conversations, did you have anybody in your life who dropped you because of your deciding to be an ally to these communities that didn't have the privilege that you had? and also is there any advice that you could give to others on how to be a good ally? >> that's a great question.
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i mean, i think, yes, over time that happened, you know, once i had done the evers case then that became a means by which other people might have seen it and go, oh, you are the same reporter who worked on such-and-such. >> it does help. it does help to know these other families, that's why the damar family came to me is because of the evers case, they had knew i worked on the evers case. but i think the main thing with the families regardless of skin color is for there to be trust. that when you talk to them you're quoting them accurately, you're representing their views accurately. all those kinds of things. that's, i think, in my opinion how you begin to build trust. they see you're not trying to burn them or, you know, misrepresent what they're saying or things like that.
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so you can have -- you begin to have these longer conversations and you begin to find out what all the family has been going through and then you kind of -- this is the way i think of anything with sources or whoever, you kind of begin to find out as much information as you can without necessarily intended to publish everything they tell you. okay? and then you begin to work them on to the record. like there may be something that's happened or information. i will give you a example. with the vernon damar family, and this is kind of an aside and it's not necessarily that important but it's kind of interesting, but vernon damar's father was actually a white man and he lived his whole life as a black man. very interesting, right? you know, but that was not something they told me the first time i showed up. and that was the story they told me after years of beginning to
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trust me, but i thought it was a fascinating story. i'm only giving you parts of that story, but it's very fascinating story. vernon damar was the only one who stayed, the whole rest of the family moved, left mississippi and some passed for white up north, which was a whole another kind of interesting saga as well. those are the kind of stories you find out over time and why do you find that out? because the family trusts you and you begin to share information, like i said, what you begin to do, you have all this information and then gradually say is this something you would be comfortable talking about in a news story. you don't instantly jump and say, hey, i'm going to do a story on this. you begin to get them to trust you like a source, let's take an aside from these families. you go and you talk to a source. let's just say someone you're interviewing for an article and they don't want to talk on the
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record they just want to talk, you know, on the record or background, let's take background. so you get that information from them and then you go back through your quotes and you find the most innocuous quote they gave you, because people want this information out. otherwise when we are talking to you and they say you pick the most innocuous quote and go, ken, would you be willing to say that on the record? can i just get you to say on the record? and they go, yeah, okay, you can quote me on that. and then you go to the next quote and then you go to the next quote and then you go to the quote you really want to get them on the record on and sometimes you can move them like that whereas if you don't have anything, if they say, oh, i'm not going to talk to you at all on the record, you say, okay, well, i'm not going to talk to you and just kind of move. instead it's better to get the information from them and then gradually try to move them on to
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the record. i think at least to me that's a valuable way of doing t it's the same thing with these families, you go inn to find that information but you don't immediately go publish it, you begin to develop that trust and then they trust you enough they want it. they know that you will do a good job and they can trust you with it. >> i think we have time for one more question. >> i'd like your perspective as somebody who has observed a lot of this litigation for a long time on the future of prosecution as a remedy for civil rights and other social justice issues, particularly law students understand much of prosecution in civil rights in the late 20th century as mostly the domain of impact litigation, legal organizations and other things. in the past few years or so there seems to be the state of the art progressing towards
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things like elected offices, municipal prosecutors, das, that sort of thing. can you flush it out as your understanding, what do you think the next ten years of prosecution for civil rights remedies is going to be like? >> i just want to make sure i'm understanding the question. with regard to what civil rights aspects are you talking about? like the cases i've been working on or do you mean -- are you talking about like civil litigation? i just want to make sure i'm understanding it right. >> i'd say the cases you're looking on, that's good. let's stay there. >> okay. well, if you are talking about criminal prosecutions i think the window is almost closed. i mean, there may be -- maybe there's another case out there that i don't know about. because here is why, the suspects are dead or their witnesses are dead and so that's -- and that's why i'm
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saying you kind of have to move -- you move from truth to justice where possible and where justice isn't possible, which is what kind of we're talking about in a situation, then you have to move on from prosecution and there is no such thing as prosecution. so what do you do in that situation? i think then you have to move -- what did south africa do in this situation? they set up truth and reconciliation. so the idea behind it in that case was you come forward, you tell the truth about what happened and we're not going to prosecute. but you had to tell the truth in order to do that. and so i could envision something like that happening at some point. i don't know under what auspices that would be, but i could foresee that with these particular kinds of cases because i don't see that many other prosecutions happening from this particular era. now, later there might be, but for the '60s, i'm talking about,
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'50s and '60s. >> i think that is about time. now i think it's time -- do you mind one more question? okay. well, i guess, too, then because i don't -- exercise over here and then the gentleman in the back with the hat. >> my question is what do you do when you can't push the source to go on the record and something extraordinary -- extraordinarily consequential. the second part of the question is five years go by, 10 years go by, 15 years go by and is there an instance that haunts you that is consequential and something you can report and had to do personally handle it as a reporter and as an individual as well. >> well, to be honest i haven't had it happen. so, i mean, there's not -- i talking about -- you're talking about some huge revelation that i couldn't get someone. i've had some revelations but not anything that was so huge like a confession or different
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things like that. you would -- it would tear you up. you would have to go -- you would feel at some point an obligation as a citizen almost but i haven't had it, so i've been very fortunate. >> hi, jerry, how are you? >> doing great. >> great. in regards to what the gentleman right here was speaking about, what about carolyn brian, she's very much alive. >> she is very much alive. that's a great question. i will try to answer this. i know i'm supposed to answer this brief, but i will try my best to answer this. so just follow me on this real quick. okay. so carolyn bryant and this is -- the reason we know this, so carolyn bryant is the woman who emmett till reportedly wolf whistled at. right? okay.
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and so she gave a statement to the defense lawyers literally just, you know, a couple of weeks before the trial of her then husband and her half-brother who were involved -- who killed emmett till. so, anyway, her original statement to the defense and we have copies of the notes because they are in the william bradford huey papers at ohio state and in that she basically said that he flirted with her, grabbed her hand, asked her for a date, flirted with her, walked out, whistled at her. she told a much different story at trial which was that emmett till basically all but raped her. that was really -- if you really want to boil it down, that's kind of real quick version of that. fast forward so the two
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killers -- actually there were more than that involved, there were at least four white guys involved, jeddah mylum, roy bryant, roy mylan who ran the plantation which is where emmett till was beaten and killed -- william bradford huey's piece i always believed for so long was true. i now believe almost everything that's in that piece is a lie. and it's kind of been regarded for so many years as gospel and it's all basically a lie. i realize. almost everything in it. in detail in it. because we know we can prove otherwise. i mean, with facts not just conjecture. so fast forward carolyn bryant was quoted in tim tyson's book as admitting that she -- that
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she lied basically when she testified. something along those lines. recanted in some way. this is where it gets crazy. carolyn bryant's family says that's not true and actually tim tyson doesn't have it on tape. so it just becomes a matter of debate that way. i guess to back up a little bit in time, in 2007 -- the fbi investigated this again, okay? in the 2000s. in 2007 it was presented to a grand jury, a majority black grand jury in mississippi, they voted against indicting carolyn bryant. they had a number of choices, though. one was murder, one was manslaughter, and i think there were other -- some other possibilities. they declined to indict her, they declined to indict henry lee loggins who was also
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identified as being involved in the killings as well. there were three black men allegedly involved as well, but let's be honest, they weren't involved voluntarily. i mean, you know, this was not a situation back in those times where it was voluntary. so the question is what evidence is there against carolyn bryant? they decided the grand jury at that time decided there wasn't enough evidence and i know the fbi has been investigating the very thing i talked about earlier about tyson's book and whether she said it or she didn't say t all those kind of things. so it becomes a legal question those that are law people would know better about than me, but the question becomes is there enough evidence to prosecute her. in hindsight, this is easy to say, in hindsight what should have happened is the feds should have prosecuted her for lying to the fbi because she told the fbi the exact same story that she
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testified to in '55. and that would have been the easier road to take. that, unfortunately, didn't happen and i'm afraid nothing is going to happen to her. at least nothing that i've heard so far, you know, suggests that. should she be prosecuted is a great question. it's a matter of evidence and proving that. we will see what the feds do, but if i'm giving you my guess, i don't think they're going to do anything more than they did back in 2007. >> well, jerry mitchell, thank you again for sharing your incredible -- >> good to see you. >> thank you for sharing your incredible and transformative story telling with us and for reminding us to live fearlessly not only in our journalism work but also in our lives. i'd also like to give a special thanks to everyone who helped put this together from the event
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planning to the folks who are running the lights and taking care of this facility and all of the work that has been gone on and to this. before you part, before you farther, i want to introduce gordon andrew fletcher, the president of the american university black alumni association which along with the irw and the soc, the school of communication, is a sponsor of our program tonight. mr. fletcher is a two-time alumist of the au school of public affairs, both with a bachelor of arts and a maste's degree, he also holds a law degree from florida a & m university a historically black college and border is a grants manager at the u.s. department of commerce and serves his community in washington as a representative for anc 58 a 08. in addition to his service to the university, thank you gordon for being with us and now he's going to leave us with a few
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words. [ applause ] >> thank you so much for that introduction. again, good evening, everyone. my name is gordon andrew lee fletcher. i'm a little under the weather so please bear with me a little bit. on behalf of the american university, black alumni association we'd like to thank you all for coming out tonight. i definitely want to give a special thank you for mr. jerry mitchell. we very much appreciate your trail blazing work around civil rights and for all people, not just for any one person but for all people and american university we stand firmly upon the institution's commitment to diversity, inclusion and mutual respect. as a chair of the plaque alumni association i must say we're pleased to co-sponsor this event tonight whether the investigative reporting workshop and school of communication. the ba's mission is to provide alumni and black students with networking and professional development as well as to uplift the ebony eagle.
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and while also positively impacting the overall culture of american university. for more information about how to get involved, please pick up a postcard at the reception or talk with eduina sims. i'm proud to be an ebony eagle and applaud all of our groups for an ongoing commitment to au by enhancing the experience of current students and great events like the one tonight. we welcome you all to join us for the reception and, again, thank you very much. [ applause ]
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