Recently we were notified that the Covington News was to be honored by Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials at a conference held at Savannah State University for our coverage of the murders at the Moore's Ford Bridge in Monroe, between Walton and Oconee counties.
Our award winning reporter Rachel Oswald wrote a piece in the July 29, 2007, edition of the paper, describing in great detail these gruesome murders.
Molly and I attended the banquet on Saturday. Since we didn't know anybody, we were a little apprehensive. By the time we left the luncheon, we were not only in awe of the folks we were with but had tears in our eyes after hearing story after story of courage and determination from a group of people, who were not only a part of history but made history.
We also had the honor of sitting with a living civil rights legend, the Rev. Dr. Fred Shuttlesworth.
Dr. Shuttlesworth led the Birmingham, Ala., civil rights march in 1963. It was he who invited Dr. Martin Luther King and Ralph David Abernathy, among others, to help him and his fellow residents of Birmingham take a little walk - a walk so special that it changed history and brought about the two most important civil rights bills of our time.
I grew up in southern Maryland in sort of a sheltered environment. So I did not see first hand the inhumanity and atrocities that were happening around our country. As a teenager, I can remember watching news coverage of the Birmingham march on a black and white television. Its picture tube was so bad you had to squint to see the action that was squeezed into the middle of the screen.
I saw the dogs and the water cannons. I saw people like Dr. Fred go down and get right back up, and I saw police with batons beating men, women and children indiscriminately. After that, I did nothing but go back and live in my own sheltered, protected life.
Since that time, I have had the chance to see with my own eyes - and to have personally experienced - some of this inhumanity. But nothing like the Moore's Ford Bridge massacre.
That is why Saturday, as I listened to stories of the intense hatred shown by some human beings, I was filled with humility. These stories came from the people who lived through the dark times. People who were treated unjustly only because of the color of their skin.
As I watched Dr. Fred, who has had a brain tumor and a stroke, sit in his wheel chair smiling at each person who came up to touch or hug and share a quick story, I didn't see the little figure that I saw so many years ago on the television. I was now looking at and sitting close to a giant of a human being.
I felt strength, courage and character surge through that room as person after person spoke of their own experiences and their positive vision of the future.
I feel in my heart that a majority of people in this county did not condone the inhumanities that were poured upon African Americans for more than 200 years, but we did encourage such behavior by doing nothing. By doing so we allowed hate-filled people - like the ones who brutally murdered four people and one unborn child on that hot summer day more than 60 years ago - to commit one of the most heinous crimes in Georgia's history without fear of punishment.
I just can't imagine, and I pray you can't either, the hate that drove these ignorant people to commit such an atrocity.
There was no question that one of the Moore's Ford Bridge Four, Roger Malcolm, stabbed a prominent white resident. He was out on bail and needed to be tried by the justice system, not by an angry mob of hatemongers.
The worst part is that after the murders, members of the mob could boldly and proudly resume their lives as normal.
I have no doubt that people who can show such cowardice were and are the first ones in the door at their local churches every week. Even worse are their neighbors and families who know that their family members or friends did this terrible act but were and are afraid to come forth with information.
For 60-plus years, no one has been brought to justice for the murders.
Georgia Representative Tyrone Brooks, the head of GABEO, who himself spent a couple of weeks in the Covington jail after protesting in the '70s, told the assembled group Saturday that Dr. Martin Luther King promised that he would come to Walton and Oconee counties to seek justice for the murders. Dr. King's promise was made before he took his infamous trip to Memphis to be a part of a sanitation workers rally - it was a trip Dr. King did not return from.
The good news is that this case is now reopened. There is a $35,000 reward being offered for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrators of this bloody crime.
There is a belief that at least two of the hate-filled mob may still be alive.
Personally, I don't care how old they are or how loving to their families they may be now, they should still be punished.
If you know something about this crime, please have the courage and decency to come forth. It is not too late nor is the crime too old for justice to be done.
If you have any information, contact the FBI the GBI or local law enforcement officials in Walton or Oconee counties.
This is a case in our history that deserves to be brought to justice and a proper close.
T. Pat Cavanaugh is the general manager of The Covington News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.