New law allows investigators to dig into Civil Rights era crimes

NASHVILLE, TN (WMC) - A new Tennessee law allows experts to dig deeper into some of the darkest chapters of American history. Investigators will now dig into crimes from the Civil Rights era that have gone unsolved for decades.

"I think it's a great thing. It's probably well overdue," said Sylvester Lewis.

Lewis is a family member of a man murdered in 1939 during a racially motivated beating says this has been a long time coming.

They stood side by side with Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam during the ceremonial signing of a bill to investigate unsolved murders from the Civil Rights era.

Lewis' cousin was killed and no one was ever charged in the death.

"I was a little boy at the time and I never did know the details," Lewis said.

But now, he hopes the bill will help uncover those details several decades later.

"I think we feel like a great portion of this burden has been lifted from our shoulders," Lewis said.

The bill was sponsored by Representative Johnnie Turner (D-85) from Memphis. She says she was inspired by the victim's brother, Charlie Morris, who testified in committee hearings earlier this year.

Turner said the bill comes after more than a decade of work, but their journey towards justice is not over.

"For all of those who have members of their family who were murdered or lynched during those turbulent years," Turner said.

Turner said within a month's time they will organize a committee of various historical research groups to determine how to approach the investigation into these cold cases.

Lewis said even though the people responsible for his cousin's death may not reap the full consequences they deserve - this is a state.

"I don't think it'll ever really bring complete justice or closure. It's a step in the right direction," Lewis said.

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