Alexander Praises Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act

Posted on September 15, 2005

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), original cosponsor of the Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act (S.1369), praised the bill and its sponsors Sen. Jim Talent (R-MO) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT) on the Senate floor Wednesday evening after the bill was added by voice vote as an amendment to H.R. 2862, the Commerce Justice Science Appropriations Bill. The bipartisan legislation creates the Unsolved Crimes Section within the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice to focus specifically on unsolved Civil Rights era murders. The Unsolved Crimes Section will be responsible for investigating and prosecuting pre-1970 cases that resulted in death and still remain unsolved in coordination with state and local law enforcement officials. The Commerce Justice Science Appropriations Bill is expected to pass the Senate today. In remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday evening, Alexander said: “Mr. President, I am here this afternoon to salute Senator Jim Talent from Missouri for his tireless work on this piece of legislation and to applaud also Senator Christopher Dodd from Connecticut who has been a leader for civil rights legislation in this country for a long time. I thank them both not only for their initiative, for thinking of this, but also for pushing it and being persistent about it. I can remember when the senator from Missouri came to me on the floor months ago talking about it. I thank them both for giving me a chance to be an original cosponsor and for their hard work on shepherding it through the Senate in this way. “The senator from Connecticut pointed out that it has not been that long since these crimes have happened. In my lifetime, it has not been that long. I was a student in the South in the 1950s. I was a college student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville when it was still segregated. I helped to try to desegregate it –- successfully. In that same year, in the early 1960s, Congressman John Lewis was trying to sit in. He could not get a seat for lunch. In that same year, the judge on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans for whom I worked a few years later, Judge John Minor Wisdom, had ordered Ole Miss to admit James Meredith. “In those years, when African-American families drove through Nashville, if they were sick, they could not be admitted to many of the hospitals; if they needed a place to sleep, they could not be admitted to many of the motels; if they needed a place to eat, they could not go to many of the restaurants. That was the life then. That was not that long ago. Many families throughout the South, as well as other parts of the country, but throughout the South, lived in fear because of that climate. “The Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act will help heal some of the scars that have been left on our society in the wake of the civil rights struggle. “This past June, shortly after Edgar Ray Killen was convicted for the 41-year-old murder of three civil rights workers, the Nashville City Paper ran an editorial that summed up why resolution of these cases is so important, and why this legislation by Senator Talent and Senator Dodd is so important. The editorial concluded, ‘As long as Civil Rights era killers are still alive and free, justice has not yet been fully served. Hunting them down and bringing them to account for their actions is far and away the best apology any of us can make for their crimes.’ “This is not leadership by lament. This is leadership by action. I commend the Senate for taking such positive steps toward recognizing and rectifying these injustices. “This action is a reflection of one of those aspects of our nation's character that distinguishes us in the world. We dedicate ourselves to high ideals. We have since our very beginning. Sometimes we have failed to live up to those ideals. But when we do, we have most often recommitted ourselves and taken action to correct our shortcomings. Therefore, we abolished slavery. Therefore, we granted women the right to vote, even though it was after many years. Therefore, we desegregated our schools. Today we shall add to that litany that we have taken steps to bring to justice criminals of the civil rights era. Justice delayed is justice denied. Today we see to it that justice will be delayed no longer. “I am proud to be an original cosponsor of this legislation, and I look forward to the day when this new office opens its doors in the Department of Justice.”