Longtime civil rights activist reacts to Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Reverend Robert Shanklin has been a civil rights activist for more than half of his lifetime. He's been fighting for equality for 52 years.

Living through a time and in a world of race-based discrimination inspired him to make civil rights the primary focus of his life's work.

"I can remember the days of when you had...when you'd go to restaurants, you had to go to the back and get your food," recalled Shanklin.

He said some days, it feels like time is at a standstill.

"Today, I feel like I am back in the 60s, from the way things are going," he said.

New legislation seeks to restore some hope in the Black community by allowing access to unredacted documents pertaining to cold cases during the Civil Rights Movement era.

The Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act was originally a bill co-sponsored by Senators Doug Jones (D-Ala) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas). The bill was ultimately written by a group of high school students in New Jersey.

After months of circulation, it was signed into law by President Trump Tuesday.

It will:

  • Require the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to establish a collection of cold case records regarding unsolved criminal civil rights cases, which government offices must publicly disclose without redaction or withholding

  • Establish a Civil Rights Cold Case Records Review Board to facilitate the review, transmission to NARA, and public disclosure of records related to such cases

Reverend Shanklin wants people to understand that civil rights are human rights.

"There are individuals that committed crimes against African Americans, against black folks that wouldn't treat a dog that way," he exclaimed.

He believes civil rights leaders both of past and present generations would be overjoyed by this new legislation.

"They would really rejoice to know that the doors will be opened to look into some of the injustice brought upon them," he explained. "They would rejoice."

Shanklin said he has faith that the new law will expose the cruel actions and behaviors against black people during such a turbulent period in American history.

He's hoping that people will be held accountable, even decades later.

"I hope that many many many of the cases in the South will be brought to light, and then those individuals that committed them will be brought to justice," he added.

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