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The trial will be one of the biggest of what some have called the South's "atonement trials" revisiting the most notorious atrocities of the civil rights era. One after another, new prosecutors have returned to these old crimes, spurred by news media investigations, relatives of the victims, the success of other prosecutors and even their own youthful memories.
- In 1994, Byron de la Beckwith was convicted in the assassination of Medgar Evers, a leader in the Mississippi National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Mr. Beckwith died in prison in 2001.
- Three years ago, Bobby Frank Cherry was convicted in Alabama for the 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church that killed four black girls. He died of cancer in prison last year.
- In Chicago this month, prosecutors exhumed the body of Emmett Till, a black 14-year-old who was kidnapped and killed in Mississippi in 1955. Two men were acquitted of his killing by an all-white jury but later admitted they were responsible. The men have died, but prosecutors believe others were involved and are seeking DNA evidence.
The literal, and figurative, exhumations of the past are the result of increasing black political power and younger, more enlightened whites, said Susan M. Glisson, the director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi. "It represents a maturing South," she said....
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A maturing South is a very good thing, devoutly to be wished for. Who knows, perhaps it will prompt a maturing North?