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Tue, 06.25.1935

James Seale, Segregationist born

James F. Seale

*James Seale was born on this date in 1935. He was a white farmer, police officer, and Ku Klux Klan member.

From Roxie, MS., James Ford Seale worked at a lumber plant as a crop duster and was a police officer in Louisiana briefly in the 1970s. He was a member of the militant Klan organization known as the Silver Dollar Group, whose members were identified with a silver dollar, occasionally minted the year of the member's birth. Southern Mississippi was active in the American Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.  Many working-class whites feared greater job competition from Blacks if integration changed society, and tensions were high over the desegregation of schools. The Natchez area became a center of Ku Klux Klan and other segregationist activity, with violence directed against black churches, often used as the center of community organizing and Black activists.  His brother Jack and his father Clyde were also members of the Silver Dollar Group.

In May of 1964, Seale kidnapped Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore (19), two young black men in Meadville, Mississippi, who were then beaten and dumped alive into the Mississippi River. The victims' weighted, badly decomposed bodies were found by chance two months later, in July 1964, during the search for three civil rights workers whose disappearance and deaths in Philadelphia, Miss., got far more attention from the media.

Seale and Edwards were suspected of kidnapping the two victims in a Klan crackdown prompted by rumors that Black Muslims were planning an armed "insurrection" in rural Franklin County. Both were arrested at the time. But, consumed by the search for the three missing civil rights workers in Philadelphia, MS, the FBI turned the case over to local authorities. And the justice of the peace promptly threw out all charges against him.

In 2000, the Justice Department's civil rights unit reopened the case. For years, Seale's family had told reporters that he had died. But in 2005, Thomas Moore and a Canadian documentary filmmaker, David Ridgen, found Seale, old and sick, living just a few miles from where the kidnapping occurred. That sighting was enough for the F.B.I., which had reopened the case in 2000, to determine that the best chance for a conviction was on kidnapping charges.

On January 23, 2007, Seale was arrested on federal charges in the death of Dee and Moore, one of the last major unsolved crimes of the civil rights era. Charged by the U.S. Justice Department on January 24, 2007, Seale was subsequently convicted on June 14, 2007. The break in the 43-year-old case was largely the result of the dogged efforts of the older brother of one of the victims, who vowed to bring the killers to justice. A second man long suspected in the attack, church deacon and reputed KKK member Charles Marcus Edwards, was not charged.

There was no immediate explanation from federal prosecutors. Nor did they say why Seale was not charged with murder. The arrest marked a 21st-century attempt by prosecutors in the South to close the books on crimes from the Jim Crow era that went unpunished.  Seale’s lawyer contended that too much time had passed between the crime and his arrest. A statute of limitations appeal rose through the federal courts until the Supreme Court, in November 2009, said it would not review the case.

James Ford Seale, a former Ku Klux Klansman, died on August 2, 2011, at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind. He was 76.


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