Rockaway Township attorney Joe Bell returned to Atlanta this week to argue–again–for the release of secret grand jury transcripts he hopes will shed light on a 1946 lynching that shocked the nation.
Ambushed by a white mob, two black couples were beaten and shot dozens of times at close range near the Moore’s Ford Bridge in Walton County, GA.
President Harry Truman ordered an FBI investigation; more than 100 people reportedly testified before a grand jury. Yet nobody ever was charged in what is considered America’s last mass lynching.
Two courts have upheld Bell’s requests to unseal the transcripts, discovered in a government archive a few years ago by Anthony Pitch, author of The Last Lynching: How a Gruesome Mass Murder Rocked a Small Georgia Town. Pitch died in June at age 80.
The Justice Department appealed, contending the secrecy of grand jury proceedings is crucial. The same 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that ruled 2-1 in Bell’s favor in February reheard the case on Tuesday before all 12 of its judges.
“It sounds like to me you have a winning argument” for release of the records under the new Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act, Chief Judge Ed Carnes told Bell, according to the Associated Press.
Government attorney Brad Hinshelwood argued against the release. Bell, representing Pitch’s family and author and historian Laura Wexler, re-asserted that the Moore’s Ford case is of “exceptional historic significance,” on par with the cases of Jimmy Hoffa, Ethel & Julius Rosenberg, President Nixon and Alger Hiss.
“All of these high-profile decisions permitted the disclosure of grand jury records; all were deemed to be of exceptional historic importance,” Bell said in an online posting.
World War II veteran George W. Dorsey, Roger Malcolm, and their wives, Mae Murray and Dorothy, were dragged from a car and murdered on July 25, 1946. The driver, farmer and suspected Klansman J. Loy Harrison, was unharmed.
Harrison employed the Dorseys and Malcolms as sharecroppers, and was driving them back from bailing Roger Malcolm from jail after his arrest for stabbing a white farmer during a fight.
Bell, a former Morris County Clerk, struck up a friendship with Anthony Pitch while taking the historian’s Washington DC tour of Abraham Lincoln’s last day. The lawyer has argued Pitch’s case pro bono for more than five years.
“Every once in awhile as an attorney you can do the right thing,” Bell told MorristownGreen.com in February.
Civil Rights advocates are hoping a dozen appellate judges do the same.
“Now, all we can do is wait for the Eleventh Circuit’s final decision on this historic case,” Bell said this week.