So, there I am, folded up like a pretzel in the back of a big SUV, speeding at 90 mph to a nondescript patch of dirt in east Georgia. At the wheel is state Rep. Tyrone Brooks. When you have a solon's plates, you don't worry about cops.
Brooks is talking as fast as he's driving. It's a story of horror, torture, murder and guilty men who have escaped justice.
I'll come back to that. First, I need to mention the man riding shotgun. He hardly speaks, but when he does, it's with the authority of someone who's overcome great tragedy. Ben Chaney's brother, James, was one of three Civil Rights workers kidnapped in June 1964 by terrorists every bit as evil as Osama bin Laden. Those loathsome people are called the Ku Klux Klan. They brutalized James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman before shooting them and burying them under an earthen dam near Philadelphia, Miss.
Three months ago, the mastermind of the murders was finally tried and convicted -- after four decades of Mississippi officials turning a blind eye to the crime.
I met Ben Chaney during Edgar Ray Killen's trial. He's devoted his life to solving the many unsolved murders in the South that occurred during the Civil Rights era. "It's all that I do," he told me. "It's my life." Each summer, he brings young people South from his Harlem home. They register poor Southerners, mainly blacks, to vote. That's what Chaney's brother was doing when the Klan, in its perversion of Christianity and patriotism, murdered him and two other men in Philadelphia.
So, why this frantic rush from Brooks' Auburn Avenue office to the hamlet of Monroe on the eastern outer orbit of the Atlanta sprawl? "I had to see the bridge," Chaney said.
He's speaking of Moore's Ford Bridge, which on a hot July 1946 evening was the scene of the South's last mass public lynching. This being Georgia, no one was prosecuted.
"In 1968, [Civil Rights leader] Hosea Williams sent me to Monroe," Brooks recalled. "And I met Dan Young. He ran the funeral home here, and he told me, 'I got something for you to see.' He pulled out a folder. There were pictures of the bodies. I couldn't believe people could do things like that to other people."
By that time, Brooks was braking at the bridge, which spans the Apalachee River and connects Walton and Oconee counties. The old bridge is now gone, replaced by a concrete span about 50 feet from the original crossing. Although there is a historic marker about two miles from the bridge, nothing at the site memorializes the murders. Except a roughly scrawled "KKK" on a bridge piling.
Two young couples -- Roger and Dorothy Malcom, and George and Mae Murray Dorsey -- had been waylaid by the Klan on the bridge. "In those days," said Bobby Howard, a Monroe SCLC leader, "we had no rights. The white men would come by and take privileges with our women." Roger Malcom had suspected a white farmer of "taking privileges" and had stabbed the man. Malcom was released from jail, and another prominent white farmer offered him a ride. It was a set-up. The farmer also picked up the other three soon-to-be-victims.
At the bridge, a noose was placed on Malcom's neck. The men struggled and were beaten beyond recognition. Dorothy Malcom called one of the Klansmen by name. That became the death sentence for the women. Both women had broken arms. There were so many bullet wounds, the bodies were unrecognizable -- except, Howard said, "by their lips."
The horror didn't end. Dorothy Malcom was seven months pregnant. "They cut that baby out of her stomach so people wouldn't know it was a white man's child," Howard said.
The story has been known for decades -- and not known. "The old people around here, they're afraid," said Jerry Ansley, Mae Dorsey's cousin. He pointed to the old roadbed. "That's where it happened. Everyone knows something happened here. But people were afraid to talk. I just heard the real story a year or so ago. It was real brutal,."
Fifty-nine years is a long time, but several of the Klan mob are still alive. Two live near the bridge. Brooks and other black leaders are pushing for indictments. Former Gov. Roy Barnes officially reopened the case. Several witnesses have named names. Yet, the local district attorney, Ken Wynne, claims he can't make a case.
"Like hell," Brooks said. "You look at the street signs in Monroe. The names are the families whose men committed this crime. These are the powerful people here. City hall, the chamber of commerce. That's why there have been no indictments."
Prosecutions have been successful in other Klan terrorism cases. It's the first step in race reconciliation. It's called justice. It needs to happen in Monroe, Ga.
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