More than 50 years after the death of two black couples who were mobbed, dragged, tied and shot 60 times by a group of white men nearly 60 miles from Atlanta, answers may finally be available.
Monday, the 11th circuit of the United States Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling that ordered the release of the grand jury transcripts. Judge Charles R. Wilson wrote that the “exceptional historical significance” that “the interest in disclosure outweighed the interest in continued secrecy.”
The Moore’s Ford lynchings of Walton County, Ga. ignited nationwide outrage in 1946, forcing President Truman to order a federal investigation.
24-year-old Roger Malcolm, one of the victims, was jailed on suspicion of stabbing his boss, a white man. Eleven days after his arrest, a white farmer named Joy Harrison bailed Malcolm out. Loy was riding with Malcolm and his wife Dorothy, along with George and Mae Murray Dorsey, Malcolm’s sister. Though Harrison told investigators that he was stopped by a group of men who took the victims at gunpoint, many in Walton County believe Harrison was a member of the Ku Klux Klan who bailed Malcolm out with intent to hand him over to coconspirators.
The four victims, between 20 and 30, were executed in a thicket nearby. More than 100 subpoenas were issued to testify in front of a grand jury of 21 amid a search which included a $10,000 reward offered by then-Governor Ellis Arnall. In December of 1946, after 16 days worth of witness testimony, the grand jury failed to charge anyone.
In 1991, Clinton Adams came froward claiming that he had witnessed the shooting, claiming Harrison was one of the gunmen. In 2013, Wayne Watson told the NAACP that he grew up hearing adults discuss the lynching while also claiming that some of those responsible were still alive.
Wilson, writing for a 2-to-1 opinion, also noted that many witnesses, suspects or family members thereof are may not be alive to have to withstand any backlash from the community at large.
Atanya Lynette Hayes, Malcolm’s granddaughter, said that her father kept up with the case until his passing in 2016. “My father died without closure,” she told the New York Times. “We want someone to be held accountable for the wrong.”
Though it remains unclear if the Justice Department will appeal the ruling, Judge James L. Graham of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, noted the potential effects of unsealing grand jury testimony.
“The vitality of the community’s continued interest” in the case “raises possible repercussions for the living descendants and relatives of those individuals whom the grand jury records will identify as being suspects, witnesses and grand jurors.”