Talk on Georgia cold cases kicks off first civil and human rights summit
Bill Rice, professor of English, moderates a panel of Kennesaw State students who…
Georgia (Nov 3, 2015) —
Bill Rice, professor of English, moderates a panel of Kennesaw State students who presented analyses of human rights themes in literary works. Panel participants included Bria Hamm,Todd Parker Clancy, Diana Kovalchuk, Cori Van Heukelom, Ensley Caldwell, Samantha Maxwell, Laura McCarter, Hannah Smith and Amanda Slaughter. Above is Emory's Hank Klibanoff.
Emory professor among presenters remembering, reconstructing rights issues
KENNESAW, Ga. (Nov. 3, 2015) — Hank Klibanoff, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the James M. Cox Professor of Journalism at Emory University, challenged those attending Kennesaw State’s first International Summit on Civil and Human Rights last week to rethink the meaning of terrorism.
He flashed images of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on 9/11 and the faces of Osama Bin Laden and other individuals charged in connection with that and other acts of terror against the U.S. Then he showed pictures of clean-shaven Caucasian men in suits and ties — men like Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers and Robert “Dynamite” Chambliss — who “look like anybody’s uncle on Sunday.” Photos of lynchings and other murders of blacks in Georgia and throughout the Jim Crow South followed.
Klibanoff and the Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases Project he directs at Emory have been making the case that people like Bowers and Chambliss are as much terrorists as those who have been so labeled in modern times because they committed heinous acts against innocent people. Bowers is known to have had a hand in the murder at least four civil rights activists in Mississippi, and Chambliss was convicted along with his co-conspirators for blowing up a Birmingham church, killing four innocent girls.
Those are well known cases of civil rights-era terrorism, noted Klibanoff, who says the FBI estimates that more than 100 racially motivated murders of ordinary citizens have gone unsolved and unpunished — nearly 20 of them in Georgia. Klibanoff and some 50 students since fall 2011 have worked to unearth new information that might help solve some of Georgia’s cold cases.
“Students tend to think of the Jim Crow South as a series of minor inconveniences — that the incidences of lynchings, bombings, attacks with dogs, water hoses and guns were temporary, one-time events,” said Klibanoff, who won a Pulitzer Prize for a book he coauthored with Gene Roberts titled “The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle and the Awakening of a Nation.” “Some people say, ‘Why is [this project] worth anybody’s time? Can’t you just let it go; put it in the past and move on?’”
Klibanoff said he can’t let it go. He recounted a conversation he had years ago with one of the prosecutors in the case against Chambliss and those accused in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. The sympathetic prosecutor questioned if Chambliss, who died in custody at 81, had grown so old and frail that he no longer posed a threat.
“I told him if it’s 40 years after 9/11 and we find Osama Bin Laden, we wouldn’t say ‘He’s old. Let him go,’” said Klibanoff, who outlined several acts of “terrorism” against ordinary black citizens killed in racially motivated incidents.
Among the cases Klibanoff and his students have researched is the case of a man who was killed for driving a new car someone thought he shouldn’t have. Others involved the deaths of a man wrongfully brutalized by police then denied medical treatment; a man falsely identified as a crime suspect and shot; and a woman allegedly killed for “sassing” a white man.
“I get great satisfaction working alongside students to uncover the truths of these cases and to understand the history of their times,” he said. “We rely on primary and secondary documents like FBI records, NAACP files, personal archives, family photographs, old newspaper clippings, court transcripts and more. Most often, even surviving relatives of the victims don’t know anything about what happened. It’s very demanding work, but it’s also very rewarding to be able to see history as it unfolded for these individuals.”
The civil rights cold case discussion set the stage for a series of inter-disciplinary panels and presentations during the three-day summit, which seized upon the 50th anniversary of major events in the American struggle for civil rights to focus on historic and contemporary struggles for human and civil rights around the globe. The summit included more than a dozen panel discussions and presentations; a concert in tribute to Holocaust victims by Laurence Sherr, Kennesaw State professor of music; a concert by the Georgia Spiritual Ensemble; a performance of “Night Blooms,” an original play written by Margaret Baldwin and directed by Karen Robinson, both Kennesaw State professors; a film screening of “Granito: How to Nail a Dictator”; and an exhibit on LGBTQ history titled “Opening Doors, Outing History.”
“We designed this conference to commemorate the American civil rights movement and as a basis to reflect on connections to the experiences of people in Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean, Asia, the Middle East and Europe who struggle in the cause of liberty and human dignity,” said Nuru Akinyemi,interimdirector of the Center for African and African Diaspora Studies, associate professor of political science and conference organizer. “Our theme of ‘remembering, re-envisioning, reinventing and reconstructing’ describes the approach of drawing strength from the past as we examine and confront the international dimensions of civil and human rights today.”
For a compete list of the summit’s sessions, featured speakers and events, click here.
— Sabbaye McGriff
Photos by Robert Anthony Stalcup and David Caselli