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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 May 2007, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK
FBI reopens file on race hate murders
By James Coomarasamy
BBC News, Louisiana

MaeVella Moore
MaeVella Moore has never given up hope of finding her husband's killer

Forty-two years after the event, MaeVella Moore still remembers the tiny details of the night that her husband, Oneal, was killed.

"I was preparing catfish," she told me, in her vibrantly coloured house in the rural Louisiana town of Varnado, "when they called me and said he'd been hurt.

"I went to the hospital and as I got there, I saw his arm flopping over the gurney. And I knew he was dead."

Oneal Moore was one of the first black sheriff's deputies in Louisiana. He had been in the job for a year and a day when shots were fired at his patrol car, from a pick-up truck bearing a confederate flag.

The car crashed into an oak tree at the end of the road where Oneal, MaeVella and their four young daughters lived.

His African-American partner, Creed Rogers, was blinded in one eye. Oneal was killed. He was 34.

'Makes you bitter'

In a room festooned with photos of her late husband, their four daughters, and the grandchildren whom Oneal was destined never to see, MaeVella showed me a scrapbook filled with frayed and fading newspaper cuttings from the time.

Photograph of Oneal Moore
Oneal Moore was one of the first black sheriff's deputies in Louisiana

According to the reports, there was little doubt that the Ku Klux Klan was responsible for the killing, but - despite a handful of arrests - no one was ever convicted. The case of Oneal Moore became just another one of the racially-motivated murders in America's Deep South that went unsolved.

"It's hard to hate when you don't know who to hate," MaeVella, now 71, told me. "It makes you a bitter person."

Soon after the murder she had thought about getting her revenge, by putting a pistol in her handbag and going to a "whites only" day at the local fair. She had planned to wait for someone to say something to her about her husband, then retaliate.

But nothing was said and the gun was never used.

She has remained determined though. She has never moved away from the town and never given up hope of a conviction.

"I'm not going to give up trying to find out who did this to my husband and my children's father," she said. "Some say 'It's 40 years, let it go,' but if my kids' grandchildren have to pick it up, we need to know a name. A true name."

Cold cases

Oneal Moore's case is one of a raft of unsolved murders from that era that the FBI is now re-examining, to see whether there is enough evidence to reopen an investigation.

RACE HATE KILLINGS
Aug 1955: Emmett Till, 14, from Chicago, is murdered and mutilated while on holiday in Money, Mississippi after whistling at a white woman. Two white men were acquitted of murder by an all-white jury.
Jun 1963: NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers murdered in Jackson, Mississippi. White supremacist Byron De La Beckwith was jailed for life in 1994 but died seven years later.
Sep 1963: Four black girls killed in bombing at a church in Birmingham, Alabama. Three men were convicted of murder, the last of them in 2002.
Aug 1964: Three civil rights activists murdered in Mississippi - Edgar Ray Killen convicted of the killings in 2005.

It is a decision that follows a handful of well-publicised convictions, such as that of a former Baptist preacher, Edgar Ray Killen. He was found guilty in Mississippi, two years ago, of the killings of three civil rights workers in 1964.

The FBI is also under pressure to act from Congress, which is preparing to draw up legislation that would mandate the FBI to reopen all of these civil rights era cases - and to give an annual progress report.

It will not be easy, though, according to Ken Kaiser, assistant director of criminal investigations at the FBI.

"You go through the state files and you might find they have legitimately destroyed the evidence. Or you'll find that the witnesses are growing old, and in some cases, dying. And then there are those who are still afraid to come forward and give evidence."

Tensions remain

That fear may well exist in Varnado, a sleepy village where, according to local white people such as Clarice Lang Fitzgerald, race relations have not moved on much since the 1960s.

They've changed their white hoods for black suits, white shirts and black ties
MaeVella Moore
She was a young girl at the time of Oneal Moore's killing, living just a few houses from where the shooting took place.

She remembers rushing out and seeing the car with the policeman's body inside.

"People don't really want these cases investigated," she told me

"There is a lot of speculation about who did it, but you'll find it hard to find people who feel remorse for what happened. I think they need to examine the case, for the sake of the family."

The headstone on the grave of Oneal Moore
Not everyone wants the FBI to reopen civil rights era cases
Her next door neighbour disagreed. "It's a waste of taxpayers' money, opening up these cases," he told me. "As far as I know, all the people involved are dead now."

MaeVella is not surprised by such attitudes.

"They've changed their white hoods for black suits, white shirts and black ties," she said, tending the flowers on Oneal's grave.

"They're more respectable, more intelligent, but they still look down on us. I don't understand why it happened. You may not love us, but you don't have to kill us."


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