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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 29, 2004

Symposium at Birmingham-Southern will remember 40 years of civil rights justice

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—A four-decade long struggle for justice in six of the most historic civil rights era crimes in the nation's history will be the topic of a series of panel discussions during a daylong symposium on the Birmingham-Southern College campus Friday, Feb. 13.

“The Gathering: Civil Rights Justice Remembered” is bringing together for the first time victims' families, law enforcement agents, prosecutors, and media professionals to discuss their roles in the civil rights murder cases and the circumstances that finally brought the killers to justice.

The panel discussions will be held in Munger Hall Auditorium on the Birmingham-Southern campus. A brief reception will kick off the program at 8:30 a.m., followed by panel discussions with family members at 9 a.m., with law enforcement agents at 10:30 a.m., with prosecutors at 1:30 p.m., and with media representatives at 3 p.m. The panel sessions are free and open to the public.

Among the historic cases to be revisited and remembered include the 1977 trial of Robert Chambliss for the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, the 1994 trial of Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 murder of Mississippi civil rights activist Medgar Evers, the 1998 trial of Sam Bowers for the 1966 murder of Mississippi NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer, the 2001 trial of Tommy Blanton for the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, the 2002 trial of Bobby Frank Cherry for the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, and the 2003 trial of Ernest Avants for the 1966 murder of Mississippi sharecropper Ben Chester White.

“The assassination of Medgar Evers and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church shocked the nation in 1963,” said Doug Jones, the former U.S. attorney and Birmingham lawyer who was lead prosecutor in the Blanton and Cherry cases. “Despite public outrage, the killers in these and several other murders in the 1960s related to the struggle for civil rights weren't brought to justice for many years. The Gathering will shed light on how these killers were finally brought to justice.”

Among those scheduled to moderate sessions are Howell Raines, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and former executive editor of The New York Times; Jerry Mitchell, the investigative reporter for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., who helped bring to trial two of the men responsible for the deaths of

civil rights leaders; and Andrew Sheldon, a jury consultant who picked the juries in five of the six cases.

In addition to Jones, others scheduled to participate in the panel discussions include Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of Medgar Evers; Diane McWhorter, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution”; former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley, who was lead prosecutor in the Chambliss case; Hinds County (Miss.) Circuit Court Judge Bobby DeLaughter, who was the lead prosecutor in the Beckwith case; Diane Robertson Braddock, sister of 16th Street Baptist Church bombing victim Carole Robertson; Eunice Davis, sister of 16th Street Baptist Church victim Cynthia Wesley; William Fleming and Ben Herren, the FBI agents who received the 2002 Federal Employees of the Year Medal for their work on the Blanton and Cherry cases; Chris and Maxine McNair, parents of 16th Street Baptist Church victim Denise McNair; and Sarah

Collins Rudolph, a survivor of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and sister of bombing victim Addie Mae Collins.

Jones said that the remaining program participants are currently being finalized and will be announced prior to the event.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, one of the “Big Six” leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize, also will attend The Gathering and will address Birmingham-Southern and Miles College students and program participants at a luncheon that day.

An exhibit of civil rights era photographs also will be on display during the day Feb. 13 courtesy of program participant Chris McNair, a longtime Birmingham-based photographer and community leader.

“ This is a story of overcoming horrendous legal barriers and racial hatred in order to achieve justice,” said Dr. Neal R. Berte, chancellor and president of Birmingham-Southern, one of the host organizations for The Gathering.

Other hosts include the Birmingham Pledge Foundation, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and Miles College. Sponsors are Alabama Power Company, Chris McNair Studio and Art Gallery, City of Birmingham, Energen Corporation, Protective Life Corporation, and Sheldon Associates Litigation Consultants.

Attention Media: Print and electronic media are invited and encouraged to cover and attend this event. Specific interview requests for during the day Feb. 13, as well as any special needs or requests, should be directed in advance to Bill Wagnon at Birmingham-Southern College at 205/226-4901 or bwagnon@bsc.edu or to Lori Johnson at the Birmingham Pledge Foundation at 205/263-8251 or lori@nvisionproductions.tv. Media also are welcome to cover the Lewis talk at noon in the Bruno Great Hall of the Norton Campus Center on the Birmingham-Southern campus; however, because space is limited, the lunch event is by invitation only and not open to the general public. If you will cover the luncheon, please contact Bill or Lori.

 
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