Source: (2008) Southern Cultures. 14(3):68-87.
In March 2006, the University of Mississippi’s William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation hosted a “Regional Summit on Racial Violence and Reconciliation.” Representatives of over two-dozen organizations devoted to responding to the legacy of racial violence in the U.S. attended the three-day conference. Attendees debated and extended the themes of justice and truth that have recently played out in Mississippi and North Carolina and ultimately pledged to coordinate their efforts through the establishment of a regional umbrella organization, the Alliance for Truth and Racial Reconciliation (ATRR). Several participants, most notably Civil Rights Movement veteran Lawrence Guyot, emphatically called for justice in the form of additional prosecutions in Civil Rights cold cases. The passage of the John Lewis-sponsored “Till Bill,” which would allocate one hundred million dollars over the next decade for the FBI to pursue investigations of Civil Rights-era crimes, would significantly bolster such efforts. But conversation also repeatedly emphasized extra-legal community responses to past and current racism. In part, the diversification of reconciliation efforts stems from a recognition of the closing window on trials for Civil Rights-era crimes as suspects and witnesses age and die–a window that has, of course, already closed in hundreds of other cases. But the wide range of ongoing efforts is also a product of the desire for a more complete community response to racist acts, for truth, and ultimately reconciliation, as well as retributive justice. In its pursuit of the latter, the legal system has proven to be ineffective at untangling and acknowledging broader community forces that produce individual acts of racial violence. By zeroing in on discrete historical events, trials also tend to decouple past instances of racial violence from the present day, obscuring institutional forces that continue to reproduce racial and class-based inequalities. (excerpt)
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