Tennessee committee to look into unsolved Civil Rights crimes extended into next year

(AP Photo)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Tennessee lawmakers on the committee looking into unsolved Civil Rights crimes will continue their work into at least next legislative session.

Committee chair Rep. Johnnie Turner of Memphis called it “a historic day for us” after word of an extension came in a letter from the speakers for both House and Senate.

The committee has been hearing testimony since last spring.

A civil defense worker and firemen walk through debris from an expolsion which struck the 16th street Baptist Church, killing and injuring several people, in Birmingham, Ala. on Sept. 15, 1963. The open doorway at right is where at least four persons are believed to have died. (AP Photo)

PREVIOUS: Tennessee Civil Rights crime committee hopes to be model for nation

The group also received input last week from the Middle Tennessee U.S. attorney about prosecuting the old Civil Rights crimes.

“It’s certainly something worth doing if you can,” said Donald Cochran, who before becoming the U.S. Attorney based in Nashville helped prosecute the last remaining suspect from the 1963 Birmingham bombing at the 16th Avenue Baptist Church.

Four young girls in Sunday school class died at the church, but nearly 40 years after the bombing, Cochran helped send that last suspect to jail

Denise McNair, 11; Carole Robertson, 14; Addie Mae Collins, 14; and Cynthia Wesley, 14; from left, are shown in these 1963 photos. A former Ku Klux Klansman, Thomas Blanton Jr., 62, was convicted of murder Tuesday, May 1, 2001, for the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing that killed the four girls on Sept. 15, 1963. (AP Photo)

“I was able to see in Birmingham what that meant to the community,” he told the committee. “I think there is no question that these kind of prosecutions–if they can be done effectively and that is a tough thing to do–but they can have tremendous significance to community members.”

PREVIOUS: Civil Rights-era cold cases to be looked at by Tennessee lawmakers

It’s that hope of the committee to examine such crimes in Tennessee and potentially do like what was done in Birmingham after so many years had passed.

The U.S. attorney added that prosecuting unsolved crimes from the civil rights era “helps restore faith in the judicial system” and “vindicates rights.”