Celebrating a Milestone
Remarks prepared for delivery.
Good morning. It is an honor to be here to celebrate this milestone.
As Director Comey noted, the years leading up to the Freedom Summer were increasingly violent.
Black Mississippians and civil rights activists regularly disappeared.
In 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was beaten, shot, and lynched for whistling at a white woman in a store in Money, Mississippi.
When James Meredith enrolled in the University of Mississippi in October 1962, President Kennedy sent 5,000 federal troops to the state to quell the riots that broke out.
And in June 1963, NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers was assassinated outside his home in Jackson by Klansman Byron de la Beckwith.
In 1964, the disappearance of Freedom Summer volunteers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner was the tipping point, bringing the attention of the world—and the FBI—to Mississippi.
Director Hoover handpicked Roy K. Moore to serve as special agent in charge of the new office and to lead the MIBURN investigation. According to veteran Mississippi journalist Bill Minor, “There was only one reliable law enforcement agency in Mississippi at the time, and that was the FBI, headed by Roy Moore.”
The Jackson Division was borne of the struggle for civil rights and the violence that defined that era. But this Division’s commitment to civil rights did not end with the 1960s. Over the years, the Jackson Division provided investigative assistance and technical expertise to state prosecutors in a number of civil rights-era cold cases.
In 1998, Klansman Sam Bowers was sent to prison for life for the 1966 firebombing of the home of Forest County NAACP President Vernon Dahmer. Mr. Dahmer died as a result of injuries he sustained in the fire.
And on June 21, 2005, 41 years to the day after the disappearance of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, Edgar Ray Killen was convicted on three counts of manslaughter for his role in the murders.
We have also pursued federal charges in civil rights cases wherever possible, including the 2003 trial of Ernest Henry Avants for the 1966 murder of Ben Chester White in the Homochitto National Forest—the first such federal prosecution.
A few years later, in June 2007, James Ford Seale was convicted of the kidnapping and murder of Charles Moore and Henry Dee, two black teenagers who disappeared in May of 1964.
Their decomposed bodies were found as authorities searched for Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman. Investigators reopened the case when it was determined that Dee and Moore had been kidnapped, taken to the Homochitto National Forest, and then driven across state lines into Louisiana.
In each of these cases, justice may have been long delayed, but it was not denied, because the employees here in Jackson refused to give up.
This division has, of course, been responsible for scores of other investigations beyond civil rights crimes.
Jackson helped capture a number of fugitives on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, including Charles Everett Hughes in 1981, Steven Ray Stout in 1988, and—most recently—Adam Mayes in 2012.
In 1978, the Jackson Division launched a successful undercover sting to pinpoint corrupt officials in Mississippi. As a result, DeSoto County Sheriff Harvey Hamilton was the first sitting sheriff in the Southeast to be convicted on federal racketeering charges.
And Operation Pretense, launched in the 1980s following a call-in tip, looked at claims that companies had to participate in a “good ol’ boy” network—paying kickbacks—in order to do business in Mississippi.
Jackson agents set up an undercover company and implicated about a quarter of the state’s county supervisors. Investigators faced a number of threats, yet by 1987, 68 subjects had been charged for their roles in corruption schemes.
Another major case exposed the lawlessness and corruption that had taken over the Gulf Coast in the 1980s. In September 1987, Judge Vincent Sherry and his wife, Margaret, were murdered in their home by the so-called Dixie Mafia. Local authorities worked the investigation for two years to no avail.
The FBI opened an investigation in 1989, which would go on to last eight years. At the final trial in 1997, Dixie Mafia lawyer Pete Halat was sentenced to 18 years in prison. The kingpin who ordered the hits, Kirksey McCord Nix, and the hit man who actually carried out the murders each received life sentences.
I could go on all day—from the investigation of one of America’s most powerful trial lawyers, Dickie Scruggs, for attempted bribery of a circuit court judge to the recent investigation of James Everett Dutschke, a Tupelo man who mailed ricin-laced, threatening letters to a number of officials, including President Obama.
As the FBI has changed to meet the threats of the day, so, too has the Jackson Division. And because no one agency can tackle all of the threats we face, this division has embraced its many partnerships. From the Joint Terrorism Task Force to Violent Crimes and Safe Streets Task Forces to the Mississippi Cyber Crimes Fusion Center, agents, officers, and deputies are working shoulder-to-shoulder, day in and day out.
This division also works hard to provide up-to-date training for its law enforcement partners, such as the active shooter trainings conducted statewide, and the state-of-the-art firearms training facility that opened in Pearl last month.
And, of course, so many of you here today are a testament to Jackson’s dedication to its community partnerships—partnerships that help us to better understand the different needs and perspectives of the diverse citizens we serve.
It is customary at events like these to say things like, “Look how far we’ve come.” “Look at the progress we’ve made.” And yes, that is true—though there is always more to be done.
We see people of different cultures, races, and religions in prominent positions, here in Jackson, throughout the state of Mississippi, and across the country. And that’s a very good thing.
But as we mark the anniversary of the Jackson Division, and of the Freedom Summer, we must recognize every single person who marched for freedom, even at great risk to their own safety. Every person who helped someone register to vote, even in the face of threats and intimidation. Every person who stood up and said, “Enough. It is time for equality.” Every person who took important and meaningful steps, both large and small, toward liberty and justice for all.
Liberty and justice for all. That is what the Jackson office stands for. It is what the FBI stands for. And we are proud to be part of America’s history—and its future.
Related story: FBI Jackson Division Celebrates 50th Anniversary