Students Strive to Get Civil Rights Cold Case Act Passed
As part of our Teacher Appreciation Week series, Steve Adubato goes One-on-One with Stuart Wexler, AP Government and Politics Teacher at Hightstown High School, to talk about how his students are working to get the Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act passed, in hopes to resolve some issues from history and help move forward with racial issues that we deal with today.
"Hi folks. I'm Steve Adubato. And it is my honor to introduce Mr. Stu Wexler, AP Government and Politics Teacher at Hightstown, High School. This is in fact part of our series we're doing that really recognizes great teachers in this state and in this region. Classroom Close-up is a series that the NJEA does and airs on NJTV, and you we're featured in that clip we're about to see, but I want to set it up here. Your class is in its third year of lobbying for a federal law called the Civil Rights Cold Case Act, which means what? So the Civil Rights Cold Case Records Act is modeled on the JFK Records Act, and the goal is to get the... mostly the Department of Justice to release the files on Civil Rights cold cases from 50-60 years ago. What kind of cases are we talking about? You'd be talking about cases that would be similar to, like, the Mississippi Burning killings, but including cases like the Willie Edwards killing. You're talking about the Mississippi Burning...? Like... the church? Mississippi Burning was the three civil rights workers who were killed in Freedom Summer. Schwerner? You're talking about Schwerner? Schwerner...? Schwerner, Goodman, Chaney. Yeah. Chaney? And then... but it would also include the Birmingham bombing. Right. But even... but those cases actually were largely solved. These are cases like the murder of Willie Edwards in 1957, other cases that are similar, where the cases actually were reopened... closed... and this is in the last ten years with no resolution. So how are they closed if they're open? Well they were reopened in... under the Emmett Till Act in 2007. By the way, people... do you think most people know who Emmett Till was? I don't think the vast majority of people know, even though Emmett... What was his crime? His crime was whistling or in the wrong... in the direction of a white woman. A white woman? And for that? He was lynched and beaten and killed. What year? 1955 it would have been. Unbelievable. Yeah, and so they... in his name, they reopened a bunch of Civil Rights cases that followed, and they closed them, the Department of Justice opened up 113, closed 113, without any resolution. And so the hope is is if they can release the files, that everyday citizens, investigative journalists, historians, and maybe just as importantly, the family members... Sure. ...can at least get some answers maybe. Not justice, that might be too late in some cases. But at least they get to..."