Two Emory experts nominated to serve on Civil Rights Cold Case Review Board

Emory Report | June 15, 2021

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Gabrielle Dudley (left) and Hank Klibanoff have been nominated by President Joe Biden to serve on the Civil Rights Cold Case Review Board to examine government records of unpunished, racially motivated murders of Black Americans during the modern civil rights era. Their goal is to expand and expedite the release of these records to the public. 

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Two Emory experts have been nominated to serve on the national Civil Rights Cold Case Review Board to examine government records of unpunished, racially motivated murders of Black Americans during the modern civil rights era (from the mid 1940s to the late 1960s) and make those records easier to access.

Gabrielle Dudley is an instruction archivist with Emory’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, where she partners with faculty to design undergraduate and graduate courses and assignments. She also finds ways for faculty to use resources from the Rose Library in their classes, such as the extensive collection related to the civil rights era.

Hank Klibanoff is professor of practice in English and creative writing and director of the Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases Project. A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Klibanoff also is creator and host of “Buried Truths,” a podcast produced by Atlanta NPR station WABE and based on the Cold Cases course he teaches. In its first three seasons, Buried Truths has won Peabody, Robert F. Kennedy and Edward R. Murrow awards, as well as an American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award.

Dudley and Klibanoff have taught together twice, leading a first-year seminar on writing about race. They’ve held class at the Rose Library, where students examined the Rose’s collections of journalists who covered civil rights.

They are two of four board nominees President Joe Biden announced on June 11. A fifth nominee will be named later and all five will await U.S. Senate confirmation before beginning their work.

Klibanoff calls the law establishing the board “significant,” partly because of its bipartisan support and partly because of its purpose.

“This is not a board to investigate civil rights cold cases,” he says. “It’s not about putting anybody in jail for any crime. It’s more about getting history right and expediting the general public’s ability to access more records in the government’s possession regarding these cases.”  

Even with the federal Freedom of Information Act in place, Klibanoff says access to civil rights cold cases has been a challenge for years. “It’s not that people were trying to hide things, they just didn’t always have good documentation of when records were transferred from the FBI to the National Archives.”

Under the law creating the review board, all federal agencies are required to hand over to the board any papers related to these cases. The board will then go through all the papers with an eye toward releasing information about as many as possible. The work will involve reviewing thousands of pages of documents.

“It’s such an honor to be nominated to work on this board,” Dudley says. “As an instruction archivist, I find ways to bring the past to the present, to bring history closer to students. Establishing this board in light of current times shows that the past truly is the present.”

At the same time that Biden announced his nominations to the Civil Rights Cold Cases Review Board, he also nominated Emory alumnus Carlton Waterhouse, an international expert on environmental law and environmental justice, as assistant administrator of land and emergency management with the Environmental Protection Agency. Waterhouse earned his PhD in social ethics from Emory’s Laney Graduate School.