Pulitzer winner Klibanoff talks dealing with unfinished business of Civil Rights-era cold cases

Posted: Friday, 12 February 2016

TROY - Pulitzer Prize winner Hank Klibanoff told a Troy University audience Thursday that through the Georgia Civil Rights Cold Case Project, he and his students are dealing with unfinished business about the injustices of decades past.

Klibanoff served as the keynote speaker of the M. Stanton Evans Symposium on Money, Politics and the Media at the Troy Campus. He and co-author Gene Roberts received the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in history for “The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle and the Awakening of a Nation.” The book serves as suggested reading for the year at TROY’s Hall School of Journalism and Communication, which sponsored the symposium.

"'The Race Beat' gave me an opportunity to open a door on a history that had importance," Klibanoff said. "This gave me a front-row seat on a truth that hadn’t fully been revealed."

It took Klibanoff 12 years to complete his work on “The Race Beat.” He credits Roberts with generating the idea of a book about journalism’s place in the civil rights movement. “He gave me the opportunity of a lifetime,” Klibanoff said.

Originally from Florence, Ala., Klibanoff worked in newspapers for 36 years, most recently as managing editor for news of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He now is a professor at Emory University in Atlanta.

He is director of the Georgia Civil Rights Cold Case Project (coldcases.emory.edu), which researches the murders of African-Americans who were killed and whose families never received closure or justice. Klibanoff described three cases that he and his students have worked on.

"This history is within our reach, and in our lives," Klibanoff said. He said people question why he is going back and studying cases that are 50 years old. He replies that it is a law-and-order issue

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"All states have agreed that there is no statute of limitations on murder," he said — "that no one in this country should be able to go to sleep at night having committed a murder sometime in their life and not worry that the next day, somebody would come to arrest them."

Klibanoff told how he and his students recently brought some peace to the daughter of Isaiah Nixon, a 28-year-old African-American man killed by two white men after he voted in 1948. After his death, his wife and six children left Georgia for Florida. The family lost the location of Nixon's grave. A student of Klibanoff's found the grave, and the class met with Nixon's daughter, Dorothy Nixon Williams, at the gravesite.

"I hate incompletions, like people not knowing details and justice not being served," Klibanoff said.

JoJo McBride, a junior multimedia journalism major from Elba, Alabama, said Klibanoff was good at making an impact without alienating people. "He opens your eyes to what is going on and how we can help," McBride said.

Students asked questions in person and via Twitter. Some wanted to know how they, too, could begin a project like the Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases.

"No. 1, trust your instincts," Klibanoff said. "And two, verify. Prove the hunch." He encouraged students to do research and utilize the wisdom of their professors.

"Mr. Klibanoff's lecture was a great source for our students," Troy University public relations lecturer Morgan Drinkard said. "Many of them were exposed to new information or a different view of history than they might have previously had."

(Story written by TROY journalism student Shayla Terry)

Hank Klibanoff

Pulitzer Prize winner Hank Klibanoff director of the Georgia Civil Rights Cold Case Project, talks to Troy University students on Thursday, Feb. 11, during the annual M. Stanton Evans Symposium on Money, Politics and the Media at the Troy Campus. (TROY photo/Kevin Glackmeyer)