PUBLIC INFORMATION — Senator John F. Kerry (D-MA) proposes a bill in Congress to require that "all records
relating to the life and death of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. be
located, reviewed, and released by a review board at the National
Archives similar to those established for the assassination of
President John F. Kennedy and for Nazi war criminals," reports Bryan Bender in the Boston Globe.
Nearly half a century after the height of the civil rights movement,
hundreds of thousands of pages of government files about the volatile
era remain shielded from the American public, buried in FBI field
office cabinets, blocked by resistant bureaucracies, or available only
with large sections blacked out, according to US officials and
Kerrys plan to introduce legislation this week, however, is seen as
only the first step in a broader movement to force the government to
disclose what it knowsand didabout violence against blacks during
the civil rights era, including scores of unsolved lynching and bombing
There are a lot of unanswered questions, said Representative John
Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and former King aide who was brutally beaten
during a civil rights march in 1965. The American people have a right
to know what happened.
The often frustrating task of persuading the Federal Bureau of
Investigations to open all its records from that period has been
undertaken primarily by loosely organized relatives of victims,
lawyers, journalists, and part-time writers such as Stuart Wexler, a
New Jersey social studies teacher.
Wexler, 33, was recently researching a book about plots to murder
King when he learned the FBIs archives contained a document about a Ku
Klux Klan leader who claimed to have played a role in the civil rights
leaders assassination in 1968. When Wexler filed a request for a copy,
he was informed that it had been destroyed as part of regular house
cleaning. He then learned there had been a government clerical error
and the file was not lost to history.
Still, Wexler will have to submit another formal request, this time
with the right file number, and is unsure what he will receive, or when
he will receive it.
Others also believe the FBI is holding on to a variety of records
that may contain valuable information, including leads the FBI may not
have followed about a rash of racial killings in the South from the
1940s to the 1960s.
The recently established Civil Rights Cold Case Projectmade up of
family members, journalists, and civil rights lawyershopes to find
more answers. It recently sought support from Attorney General Eric H.
Holder, who responded in writing that the Justice Department is
engaged in internal discussions about how best to proceed . . . in
order to achieve the most responsible public disclosure possible.