FBI to reopen Memphis civil-rights era cold case

Published: Feb. 28, 2007 at 3:32 AM CST|Updated: Mar. 5, 2007 at 10:12 AM CST
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Nearly 50 years ago, 16-year-old Larry Payne was shot to death at what used to be a housing project.

Tonight, his death is one of dozens of unsolved civil rights cases the FBI will re-open.

The death of Larry Payne was overshadowed by the assassination of Doctor Martin Luther King.

"I remember the articles, I remember how we felt, but there was so much going on. It kind of got lost," said NAACP Executive Director Johnnie Turner, who walked in the sanitation worker march that led to Payne's death.

She's glad to know his is one of 76 civil rights cold cases the FBI has pledged to re-open.

"As long as those who perpetuated that crime are allowed to go free, then justice has not been served," she said.

Memphis historian G. Wayne Dowdy says records show Payne died at the hands of a Memphis Police officer after the officer accused him of looting. "Larry Payne was a high school student, an African American high school student in Memphis who participated in the March 28 demonstration led by Dr. King that eventually turned violent."

He says later that day the officer shot Payne outside his Fowler Holmes Housing Project, now a barren property.

"I pray that Larry Payne's family will get the justice and the closure that they so richly deserve," said Turner.

We spoke with the family's attorney. He says he hasn't been in recent contact with them, but he looks forward to hearing how this case unfolds.

"It's partly an attempt to come to grips with the events of the civil rights movement. Particularly the violence that ensued," said Dowdy.

Turner says it sends the message you can run, but you can't hide.

Local FBI officials say the office has not officially begun the new investigation.

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