College of Law to Host Civil Rights Cold Case Event

Local experts and a UT forensic anthropologist will take on a civil rights-era cold-case murder investigation from 2 to 4 p.m. Friday, February 24, during a special event sponsored by the College of Law.

“Cold Case: Justice for Elbert Williams” will explore the death of Elbert Williams, the first NAACP official in the nation murdered for his civil rights work. Williams was killed June 20, 1940, in the rural agricultural town of Brownsville, Tennessee.

The presentation, which is free and open to the public, will be in Room 132 in the College of Law. A meet-and-greet will follow.

In Haywood County, Tennessee—deep in cotton country and the heart of the Tennessee delta—an inquest into Williams’s death was held at the riverbank. The verdict: death caused by “foul means by persons unknown 6-23-1940.” Williams was buried the same day in an unmarked grave.

Williams’s murder was the culmination of a white terror campaign designed to destroy the infant Brownsville NAACP branch and deter African Americans from registering to vote. It bought the white supremacist perpetrators another 20 years of white rule in Haywood County.

The team of experts will be led by Jim Emison, a renowned courtroom lawyer of 43 years. Since his retirement in 2011, Emison has been investigating Williams’s murder. Emison has obtained an official state historical marker honoring Williams and was instrumental in bringing about a memorial service on the 75th anniversary of Williams’s death. He is leading a team of experts to locate Williams’s unmarked grave and hopes to persuade the US Department of Justice to reopen its investigation into Williams’s death.

Other presenters at the event will be:

  • Cynthia Deitle, a special agent with the Knoxville office of the FBI, who has investigated a significant number of sensitive hate crime cases including the fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo by New York City Police officers and the sexual assault of Abner Louima. She has devoted considerable resources to addressing the FBI’s Cold Case Initiative, which seeks to reexamine unsolved racially motivated homicides from the civil rights era.
  • Amy Mundorff, a biological anthropologist at UT who specializes in forensic anthropology and disaster victim identification management. Mundorff will discuss what her department is prepared to do if the state reopens the investigation into Williams’s murder.
  • John W. Gill, special counsel for the Knox County District Attorney’s Office. He is the former US attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee and a former special agent with the FBI.

Attorneys who attend may receive two hours of dual continuing legal education (CLE) credit. A $10 fee is required to receive the credit.

To register for credit, email Micki Fox with your name, BPR number, email address, mailing address, phone number, and fax number, the title of the CLE for which you are registering, and a note of any states other than Tennessee in which you will seek CLE credit for this activity.

For more information, visit the event page on the College of Law website.

CONTACT:

Micki Fox (865-974-4464, mfox2@utk.edu)

Catherine Willis (865-974-5013, cwillis@utk.edu)