Unpunished murderers be warned: Alvin Sykes continues his justice crusade

There’s no rest for justice seekers.

In March 2006, we profiled Kansas City’s Alvin Sykes, who has spent years methodically working to create a way for the U.S. Justice Department to address one of our country’s most shameful legacies: countless unsolved murders from the Civil Rights era. Last fall, Sykes saw one of his main efforts rewarded when the Senate passed the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2008, creating a Justice Department office to investigate and prosecute those murders.

Sykes, among others, had successfully pushed the government to open an investigation into the lynching of Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago who was murdered, and his body mutilated, while he was visiting relatives in Mississippi in 1955. His killers, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, later confessed to the crime but went unpunished and have long since died. Others may have been involved — particularly Bryant’s wife Carolyn. Young Till earned his Mississippi death sentence simply for whistling at the white woman. Carolyn Bryant is still alive, but in February 2007 a LeFlore County, Mississippi, grand jury declined to return any new indictments, citing insufficient evidence.

But the fact that there was even an investigation was its own form of

justice. As Sykes told me in 2006, “J. Edgar Hoover said there would never be an investigation.”

Now there’s the promise of more investigations. In fact, Sykes says, the Justice Department has 26 active investigations into cold cases from the Civil Rights era.

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