Major Executive Speeches

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Photograph of Robert S. Mueller, III Robert S. Mueller, III
Federal Bureau of Investigation

News Conference on the Civil Rights Cold Case Initiative
Department of Justice, Washington, DC

February 27, 2007

The FBI and Justice Department exist to bring justice to the oppressed, and to bring truth to light. This is a mission that is shared by our community partners such as the NAACP, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the National Urban League. And so we have joined together, forming these new partnerships to combat an old scourge.

As you know all too well, many murders during the Civil Rights era were not fully investigated, were covered up, or were misidentified as an accidental death or disappearance. Many trails ran cold, and many cases were effectively closed.

But for the victims—and for their parents, children, siblings, and friends—the wounds were never closed.

The families and friends of the victims never lost hope, and breakthroughs in investigations, technology, and conscience have affirmed that hope. We saw this just last month, with the indictment of James Seale, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan, for the kidnapping and murder of Henry Dee and Charlie Moore back in 1964.

Today, we have forensic analysis and technology that were nonexistent 40 years ago. Witnesses who were once terrified to speak out are now stepping forward. Groups like those here today have carried the flame year after year, have continued to gather information, and have kept the memories of the dead alive.

A year ago, the FBI began a nationwide initiative to identify cold cases. We asked our 56 field offices to re-examine their unsolved civil rights cases and determine which ones could still be viable for prosecution.

Since this initiative began, we have been provided with information regarding nearly a hundred such cases. Each will need to be assessed for its investigative and legal viability, but the cases in which we can move forward, we will move forward.

In too many instances, the truth has been hidden for too long. Many individuals have, quite literally, gotten away with murder.

We cannot turn back the clock. We cannot right these wrongs. But we can try to bring a measure of justice to those who remain.

We know that some memories may fade, some evidence may be lost, and some witnesses may pass away. We know that no matter how much work we devote to an investigation, we may not always get the result we are hoping for.

But in other cases we will. In 2001, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherry were convicted of murder for the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. In 2003, Ernest Avants was convicted for the 1966 murder of Ben Chester White. And in 2005, Edgar Ray Killen was convicted for his role in the deaths of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964.

These successes have restored our hope and renewed our resolve. Justice has been delayed, but we are determined that justice will not be denied.

We will do everything we can to close those cases, and to close this dark chapter in our nation's history.

As Black History Month ends, we are reminded that protecting the civil rights of all Americans is one of the FBI's highest missions, whether the violations occurred four days ago or 40 years ago. We look forward to working closely with all of our partners and the Justice Department to bring the truth to light, to close these cases, and to heal past wounds.

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