Robert Lee III’s personal crusade to resolve civil rights-era crimes and open the door for reconciliation was remembered this week by university officials and his pastor.
Lee, 71, of Clayton, died Thursday, April 26.
A regular guest at the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication, Lee spoke to numerous classes involving hundreds of students over the years.
“Concordia Parish lost so much with the death of Robert Lee,” the dean of the Manship School, Jerry Ceppos, said Monday. “But many people may not know that the Manship School at LSU also lost much with his death. Robert was one of the keys to our investigation of cold civil rights-era murders. We mourn him as do so many others in Louisiana.”
James E. Shelledy, Director of the Civil Rights Era Cold Case Murders Project at LSU’s Manship School, said “Lee was a remarkable individual and pillar in his community. He impressed and enlightened hundreds of LSU students over the years with his passionate talks on race issues in Louisiana.
“He graciously gave of his time to talk to LSU classes and provided countless hours of background help to the Cold Case Project teams. He and the Lee family helped shape the history of this state. Robert loomed large in our minds. Needless to say, many in the Manship School of Mass Communication -- students, faculty, administrators -- are distraught at Robert's passing. We have lost a unique friend.”
Lee’s work and friendship were also celebrated at the Syracuse University College of Law and the Cold Case Justice Initiative (CCJI).
CCJI’s co-directors Paula Johnson and Janis McDonald, in a joint statement, said this week:
“The search for justice takes heroes. Robert Lee III was one of ours. He stood up for the truth of what happened in Clayton, Ferriday and Vidalia, Louisiana and elsewhere despite the disapproval of those who wanted to keep the past locked in silence.
“Over the last 10 years of our work as co-directors of the Cold Case Justice Initiative at Syracuse University College of Law, Robert became our friend, our guide, our liaison in the communities, our colleague in the investigations of more than 15 homicides in the area, and our relentless motivator to find the truth of what happened to innocent members of his community at the hands of racist killers.
“His death on April 26th brings us sorrow and a deep loss to all of us who worked with him and to the communities he insisted deserved justice both in the past and in the present. We extend our respect and sympathy to the Lee family.”
In his eulogy of Lee, the Rev. Rickey V. O’Quinn, pastor of Saint Mark Baptist Church, quoted Genesis 4:9:
“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’
“’I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’”
O’Quinn said Lee lived his life as his “brother’s keeper.”
“He loved civil rights and he loved social justice,” O’Quinn said, and ultimately he believed “in justice for all regardless of race, creed, color or religion.”
The pastor said Lee was well read, “a great researcher,” and student of history.
Lee also was a member of the Center for Investigative Reporting Civil Rights Cold Case Project team, which during the past years has looked into numerous civil rights-era murders in the South.
For years, Lee worked quietly in the background assisting the Concordia Sentinel in its investigations into civil rights-era racial murders.
Lee’s work took him throughout Louisiana and southwest Mississippi where he went door-to-door seeking witnesses and information on cold case murders.
“Every family and every community deserves justice,” he once told the Sentinel. “In order to get past the injustices of any era we have to know and understand what they were.”