Franklin County, Miss., is being sued by the families of two 19-year-old black men who were killed by Klansmen in 1964.
In documents filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi in Natchez on Tuesday, August 5, the suit claims that in Franklin County in 1964, Sheriff Wayne Hutto, and his chief deputy, Kirby Shell, conspired with the Klansmen who abducted and killed Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore. The two teens were abducted on May 2, 1964, beaten and later dumped into the Old Mississippi River from the Louisiana side where they drowned.
The suit also list the names of Klansmen allegedly involved in these and other crimes, and reports the names of other victims, some of whom are white. In fact, the suit claims that it was the practice of "Franklin County to deny law enforcement protection of African-Americans and to whites who the Klan believed hindered their campaign of racial violence."
Plaintiffs are seeking a federal jury trial.
Last year, James Ford Seale was convicted in U.S. District Court in Jackson on federal kidnapping and conspiracy charges in the murders of Dee and Moore. Now 72, Seale is presently confined in federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., where he is serving three life sentences.
Jerry Mitchell of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., says this is the "first known federal lawsuit brought by family members against a county involving these unpunished killings from the civil rights era since cases began to be reopened in 1989."
Filmmaker David Ridgen of Toronto, Canada, whose documentary "Mississippi Cold Case" about the Dee-Moore murders has been nominated for an Emmy and credited for bringing justice in the case, said the "complaint filed by the Moore and Dee families on August 5, 2008 is at once morally, historically, and politically important whether it results in a trial or not. This complaint is an example of how individuals can hold the state accountable for its knowing complicity in terrible crimes. I would hope that in the least, official recognition of state complicity in the violence and flagrant rights violations of the civil rights era will come out of this complaint, with truth and reconciliation being the ultimate goal. Now is the time."
Professor Janis McDonald, one of the co-directors of the Cold Case Justice Initiative at Syracuse University College of Law, said she thinks this civil lawsuit is another important part of the effort to bring justice to the families and to address the way the state aided the Klan.
"The record shows that state agencies were informed by the FBI that specific Klan members were active in local law enforcement," she said. "The state has a responsibility to all its people." She added that the "law doesn't have real meaning, now or then, if we don't expose the truth and prevent this from happening again."
Family members listed as plaintiffs in the suit include Thomas Moore of Colorado Springs, Co., brother of Charles Eddie Moore, and Thelma Collins of Springfield, La., sister of Henry Hezekiah Dee. The suit seeks for the plaintiffs compensatory, economic, non-economic, exemplary and hedonic damages, and attorney and legal fees.
But, says Thomas Moore, money isn't the issue.
"Money means nothing to me," said Moore. "When James Ford Seale was found guilty my mission was complete. I want the people in Franklin County to know that this terrible thing happened, and that it was covered up for 41 years and people are still in denial."
The suit alleges that Hutto, named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the federal indictment returned against Seale, "misled the plaintiffs" when they inquired of the sheriff "about their loved ones, that he deceived the plaintiffs into thinking he knew nothing of the whereabouts of Moore and Dee when in fact he did." The suit further alleges that Hutto and Shell misled the FBI and concealed "their participation in the events of May 2, 1964, the day the two young men were killed," and later "covered up their roles in these crimes."
Thomas Moore says the "sheriff's office sent my mother on a wild goose chase. I walked around angry at Charles for running away until his body was found. My mama hired a private investigator who went to Louisiana looking for Charles and all the time he was on the bottom of the Mississippi River and they knew it."
The lawsuit alleges that "James Seale took Moore and Dee to the Homochitto National Forest in Franklin County. Seale was followed by other members of the Bunkley klavern traveling in another vehicle: Charles Edwards, Clyde Seale, his father, Archie Prather, and Curtis Dunn.
"Upon arrival...James Seale pointed a sawed-off shotgun towards Moore and Dee. Edwards, Clyde Seale, and Curtis Dunn then whipped Charles Moore and Henry Dee with bean poles and tree limbs..."
The suit says that for a while Moore and Dee were held "by James Seale and Curtis Dunn at Clyde Seale's farm. Two Klansmen from Natchez, Miss., Jack Seale, James Seale's brother, and Ernest Parker, joined James Seale and Curtis Dunn.
"James Seale, Jack Seale and Ernest Parker put the two victims in the trunk of Parker's car after James Seale taped their mouths shut with duct tape, and bound them with hay bale twine rope. The members of the Klan, including James Seale, Jack Seale and Ernest Parker headed toward Parkers Landing on the Old Mississippi River," where the victims were secured with weights and thrown into the river where they drowned.
"Some of these men's families are still prominent families in Franklin County today," said Thomas Moore. "I want everyone to know who was involved in my brother's death. I encourage all family members of these many victims like my brother to speak out and to come forward."
The suit also alludes to others cases in which Hutto and Shell are alleged to have conspired with the Klan, including the beating of Burl Jones who was kidnapped inside the Franklin County sheriff's department by two hooded Klansmen on Aug. 15, 1965, taken to the Homochitto National Forest and beat with a bullwhip as the men "taunted Jones with racial epithets."
The suit also points to the beating of a white man, Alton Alford, who resided in Meadville. Alford was kidnapped from his home on June 13, 1964, allegedly for associating with black people. He was transported to the woods, tied to a tree and beaten "in front of a crowd of about 25 men." Alford reportedly "recognized the voice of James Seale during the beating." Weeks later, Alford was chased by Seale who "beat him severely."
In August 1965, a former Klansman named Earl Hodge, once a "member of the Bunkley klavern who resided in Eddiston in Franklin County," was found dead and members of "the Bunkley klavern were suspected in the murder." The suit claims that Hodges was suspected as being an informant for the FBI and the Mississippi State Highway Patrol.
On August 15, 1965, Hodge sought a meeting with Klansmen, according to the suit, to assure them that he was not an informant. But the next day, his body was found "clothed in just underwear" in the "lawn of a private home." The suit says James Seale and Jack Seale "were alleged to have participated in the murder of Earl Hodge."
During hearings in January 1966 by the House un-American Activities Committee in Washington, D.C., just five months after Hodge was murdered, James Seale was questioned about the Alford beating and the Hodge case. He refused to answer all questions, taking the fifth. A committee investigator said that Hodge "had been a member of the Klan, had fallen out with a man by the name of Clyde Seale (James Seale's father)..."
Clyde Seale was also called before the committee and likewise took the fifth. The investigator said it appeared that Hodge "had walked from the place where he had been beaten to a well, apparently in an effort to wash the blood off himself, when he died. An examination of his body showed welts from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head. There was a hole in the top of his head. There was a split from the left side of his nose to his left eye which was deep enough so that you could see the roof of his mouth."
The investigator also pointed out that Clyde Seale was part of a Klan effort to set up a defense fund for Klansmen who had been arrested. Clyde Seale bragged, said the investigator, that of $12 collected for the defense fund in a jar at the Crossroads Grocery in Franklin County that "Negroes put in half."