Court upholds order to unseal records in brazen lynching

ATLANTA, Ga. (AP) — A historian who has spent years looking into the unsolved lynching of two black couples in rural Georgia more than 70 years ago hopes some answers may finally be within his grasp.

A federal appeals court on Monday upheld a lower court ruling to unseal the transcripts of the grand jury proceedings that followed a monthslong investigation into the killings.

Roger and Dorothy Malcom and George and Mae Murray Dorsey were riding in a car that was stopped by a white mob at Moore’s Ford Bridge, overlooking the Apalachee River, in July 1946. They were pulled from the car and shot multiple times along the banks of the river.

Amid a national outcry over the slayings, President Harry Truman sent the FBI to rural Walton County, just over 50 miles east of Atlanta. Agents investigated for months and identified dozens of possible suspects, but a grand jury convened in December 1946 failed to indict anyone.

Anthony Pitch, who wrote a 2016 book on the lynching — “The Last Lynching: How a Gruesome Mass Murder Rocked a Small Georgia Town” — has sought access to the grand jury proceedings, hoping they may shed some light on what happened.

A federal judge in 2017 granted Pitch’s request to unseal the records, but lawyers with the U.S. Department of Justice appealed, arguing grand jury proceedings are secret and should remain sealed. A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday ruled 2-1 to uphold the lower court’s order.

“I think it’s just enormous,” Pitch said by phone after the 11th Circuit ruling was published.

His lawyer, Joe Bell, said he was “absolutely delighted.”

“I believe our case was on the correct side of history, and I believe the court felt that way as well,” Bell said by phone, later adding, “Perhaps now the truth of this unfortunate, gruesome act will be finally unearthed and displayed to the world.”

The Department of Justice declined to comment on the 11th Circuit ruling.