Racially motivated killings may soon see justice - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Racially motivated killings may soon see justice

February 27, 2007

Dawson--  Racially-motivated killings from the civil rights era may soon see justice. The FBI is re-opening a dozen cold cases from the 50's and 60's and they may add other cases to their list.  That includes three here in South Georgia. One family hopes to get some closure from the wrongs of decades gone by.

Newspaper articles show black and white headlines of death and violence in Dawson during the civil rights era. But Odell Williams saw it all in color.

"It was about 11:30, Saturday night," said Williams. It's a night in 1958 Williams will never forget.

"We heard two shots and I jumped up and went to the back door to see where the shots came from and I saw two flashlights," said Williams. He followed those lights.  They led to two police officers and one sad discovery.

"He went to point down and I looked down and I was standing straddling Willie's head," said Williams. On the ground was his cousin, Willie Countryman or Woody as he was often called. "I said what happened? And they could never tell me what happened," said Williams.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says what happened was a racially motivated murder.  Countryman was shot and killed by Police officer W.B. Cherry in his own yard.  Cherry claimed self-defense and was cleared. "We went to Macon for the hearing and they said we didn't have enough evidence," said Williams.

Years later, it's evident that the family is still suspicious of the shooting death. Countryman's cousin Rebecca Humphrey still wonders what really happened that night.

"I wonder why did he get killed by the policeman and what did he do to make him kill him," said Humphrey. Like many deaths during the Civil Rights era, this one could just be related to skin color. Renewed interest from the government could shed some new light on many of those deaths including Willie.

"I feel bad, real bad about it. He was a good guy and I just couldn't understand why this would happen to him," said Williams. What happened won't be forgotten.

"No, never will. Like I say we were close, just like brothers. Really I hate to think about it sometimes," said Williams. But justice could make the bad memories a little more bearable.

Countryman is one of 76 names on a list compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center and featured on a display called "The Forgotten" at the Civil Rights Memorial Center. The group turned over information about those 76 cases to the FBI which is now investigating some of them.  

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