NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) - Shedding more light on a difficult chapter in Tennessee history will soon be a reality. The governor signed a bill setting up a special committee to look at cold cases from the civil rights era.
The bill was one some thought would never happen. But a 96-year-old man's dramatic testimony more than two months ago set the stage for this historic bill to pass.
“The truth has never been told.” Charlie F. Morris, Sr. made the trek from west Tennessee to a state senate committee room to tell the story of his brother.
Authorities said Charlie's brother drowned in 1939, but sometimes in cases like that, there was another story never officially told. In that committee room in early April, Charlie told lawmakers about an aunt, a Shelby County School teacher, who said his brother had been shot and tortured to death.
“She was threatened. She saw everything that happened, and her life was threatened as well as her job,” said Morris.
Dramatic stories like Charlie’s set the stage for a bill signed by Governor Bill Haslam Wednesday, which sets up a special joint legislative committee to look into unsolved civil rights crimes and cold cases. Memphis lawmaker Johnnie Turner spearheaded the effort.
“I have a lot of personal stories to tell about how I could have been an unsolved civil rights murder because of the situations I was in during the sit-in movements and even afterwards,” said Rep. Turner.
And while Morris could not make that trek for the signing, his family members did. One of them says he also saw what happened that day
“We just figured it was something that was gone forever, nothing would ever come of it, but I am pleased to see the outpouring and efforts put forward to at least bring this kind of thing to the surface,” said Sylvester Lewis, the victim's cousin.
The first meeting of the special committee looking into old civil rights cases is expected when lawmakers come back in January. Along with Representative Turner, Memphis lawmaker G.A. Hardaway worked on the bill that was 15-years in the making.
The bipartisan effort in the senate was led by Republican majority leader Mark Norris.