Stanley Nelson, Hero

There are unassuming folks around us who do great things.  Stanley Nelson is one of those people.  The editor of the weekly Concordia Sentinel in northeast Louisiana, Nelson has for several years conducted a crusade to track down and bring to justice those who terrorized civil rights activists in the 1960s.

Stanley Nelson.jpgI met Stanley when I visited Natchez, Mississippi, for research on Aaron Burr’s western expedition, as part of my work on my forthcoming book on Burr.  Some history-minded people in Natchez — especially Joan McLemore and Barbara Haigh — were wonderfully helpful and hospitable in guiding me to Burr-related sites in the area.  Joan invited Stanley to join us for a brunch one morning because he is a history devotee who has written insightfully about Burr and many other aspects of the history of his area. 

We talked about Burr for a while, but what really interested me was Stanley’s dogged pursuit of the civil rights murderers.  He is a single person in a small town working for a small publication, but he is mortally offended that these crimes have never been prosecuted.  And he is making a difference.

Today’s Washington Post includes a feature story about Stanley’s efforts, particularly his success in pinpointing the likely murderer of Frank Morris of Ferriday, Louisiana in 1964.  The suspect, still alive, is supposedly subject to FBI investigation, but the FBI is taking an extraordinarily long time in bringing a case.  Though a 47-year-old crime is certainly a challenging case to prosecute, the FBI should either bring the case or issue a report of what it knows and why it chooses not to prosecute.  The victim’s family, friends, Stanley Nelson, and the entire nation are entitled to no less.

Though Stanley started his crusade by himself, he has been joined by some impressive allies, including the Cold Case Project of the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Cold Case Justice Initiative sponsored by Syracuse University.

My hat is off to all concerned, and my fingers are crossed that the government will follow up effectively on their work.

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