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Emory experts confirmed by U.S. Senate for Civil Rights Cold Case Records Review Board
Gabrielle Dudley and Hank Klibanoff

Gabrielle Dudley (left) and Hank Klibanoff are two of the first members of the Civil Rights Cold Case Records Review Board, which will examine government records of unpunished, racially motivated murders of Black Americans from 1940 to 1980.

On Feb. 17, Emory University professor Henry “Hank” Klibanoff and Gabrielle Dudley, instruction archivist in Emory’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, were confirmed by the United States Senate to serve on the Civil Rights Cold Case Records Review Board.

Dudley and Klibanoff were nominated by President Joseph R. Biden in June 2021. They testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee regarding their nominations in January. As members of the review board, they will examine government records of unpunished, racially motivated murders of Black Americans from 1940 to 1980.

“[This confirmation] validates the importance of transparency and access to government-held records, which is something that has enormous meaning to me as a journalist,” Klibanoff says. “In my view, success comes when people finally get the evidence and the truth of their own family’s history. If you put enough families together, you develop a regional history and from there a national history. We may find evidence that leads us to a different sort of history that is closer to the truth.”

The creation of the board is the result of the Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act of 2018, which was sponsored by then-Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama and signed into law in 2019 by President Donald J. Trump. The purpose of the act is “to provide for the expeditious disclosure of records related to civil rights cold cases, and for other purposes.” This includes the digitization and transmission of records into the National Archives once they have been examined by the review board. The experts will look at cold case information from federal agencies to determine which cases can be released and which ones need further scrutiny.

Both Dudley and Klibanoff have extensive experience in this area.

In addition to working with faculty to design undergraduate and graduate courses and assignments, Dudley is a founding member of the Atlanta Black Archives Alliance. She has been working with civil rights collections for more than a decade. In her testimony, she spoke about the personal and educational impact of releasing cold case records.

“As an Alabamian and Black daughter of the South, I grew up with the constant reminders of the struggles of the Civil Rights era and knowledge that unsolved cases existed,” Dudley said in her testimony before the Senate. “I recognize the cultural value of these records and realize how access to them can spark both transformation and change.”

Klibanoff is the director and teacher of the Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases Project at Emory and is also a professor of practice in the creative writing department. He is the creator and host of the “Buried Truths podcast, produced by WABE, where he and Emory undergraduates delve into unresolved and unpunished racially motivated killings; it has been honored with Peabody, Robert F. Kennedy and Edward R. Murrow awards. In 2007, he and co-author Gene Roberts won a Pulitzer Prize in history for “The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation” (Knopf).

During his Senate testimony, Klibanoff explained that though many of the perpetrators in these killings are deceased, the release of the records will still have a positive impact.

“We may well see racial peacemaking among families of perpetrators and families of victims,” Klibanoff said. “I have seen with my own eyes and heart the extraordinary good that can come when families of those who are killed sit down with a couple of hundred pages of government records and unlock decades of mysteries, myths and misunderstandings.”

Dudley and Klibanoff are among the first members confirmed for the review board. Other members confirmed Feb. 17 include Brenda Stevenson, professor and chair of the history department at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and Massachusetts-based civil rights lawyer Margaret Burnham. View the four nominees’ testimonies.

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