Keith Beauchamp’s new TV series, “The Injustice Files,” chronicles investigative efforts to solve civil rights murders. (Photo courtesy of Keith Beauchamp)
Award-winning filmmaker Keith Beauchamp found his calling while making his first documentary about Emmett Louis Till, the 14-year-old black boy who was abducted and tortured to death in August of 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman. The suspects subsequently arrested for the lynching were all acquitted by an all-white jury.
That heart-wrenching story of a young boy, beaten, shot and thrown in a river, ignited the early civil rights movement. Decades later, the case was re-opened by the FBI because Beauchamp uncovered new information in the course of his research for “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till.”
Bolstered by his ability to connect with potential witnesses who otherwise might not come forward in communities where such civil rights crimes have occurred, Beauchamp has become a passionate advocate for survivors seeking justice for victims and has assisted the FBI by developing new leads for some of the still unsolved cases from this shameful, troubled chapter in American history.
For his new TV series, “The Injustice Files,” Beauchamp combs through records; interviews family members, witnesses and investigators; and pieces together the known facts of each case. Beauchamp also attempts to interview potential suspects and individuals who may know who was responsible for these murders, sometimes confronting them in their driveways after attempts to contact them for interviews prove unsuccessful.
Here, director/producer/host Beauchamp talks about “The Injustice Files” which airs on the Investigation Discovery Network. Check local listings for airtimes.
What gave you the idea for “The Injustice Files?”
“The Injustice Files” is an extension of my previous work profiling civil rights murders from the 1950s and 1960s. It’s my third TV production produced in collaboration with the FBI’s Civil Rights Cold Case Initiative that began in 2007.
Tell me a little about the series.
The series is a 3-part docu- series produced by CBS News’ heavyweight, Susan Zirinsky and Eye Too Productions and premiered on Investigation Discovery. It follows the investigative efforts of myself and the FBI’s Civil Rights Unit Chief, Cynthia Deitle. There are three unsolved civil rights murders from the 1960s, of Wharlest Jackson, Oneal Moore and William Lewis Moore, that we hope to get solved.
How hard was it to get the series off the ground, given the popular notion of America being post-racial?
It’s challenging to get a project of this nature green-lighted for TV. When I walk into a network, I always have to prove why this project is so important for this day and time. When you speak about injustices and the civil rights movement, many feel that it’s a thing of the past and it’s a black issue, but in reality it’s an American issue. These are murders that need to be solved to help bring justice and closure for the victims’ families and we have all benefited from the American civil rights movement. Racism still exists in this country and to forget our past we are doomed to repeat it.
Do you ever feel concerned about your own safety while reopening these cases?
Dr. King once stated, “If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” This is a quote that I use every day of my life investigating these murders, so my own safety has never been a concern. Although I’m completely aware of the dangers that exist, I fear no man but God.
Are you getting support from the federal and local authorities when you are able to identify a perpetrator who is still alive?
Yes, that’s what makes this new project so exceptional. It was done with the full participation of the FBI and these cases are active investigations. It’s the first project of its kind where you have a filmmaker and the FBI working side by side for a common goal, which is to get justice and closure for the families and the communities stricken with this pain.
How do you want viewers to react to episodes of “The Injustice Files?”
I want people to understand that these murders need immediate attention. This is not just about learning our history; we need to solve these murders. As each day passes, perpetrators and witnesses to these murders die off. So, it’s a race against time to get justice for those who paved the way for us to exist in this “free society” and for their families.
Are you happy?
Wow, that’s a hard question. Considering the type of work I’m doing, it does have its downside. Dealing with death daily can really play on your mind and you find yourself often in dark places. I’m happy when I’m in the field working and producing my work.
I still haven’t found a way to balance my personal and business life because I eat and breathe this work day in and day out. There are so many families who need help. I often joke that I will need some serious therapy when I’m done.
When was the last time you had a good laugh?
It’s really hard to say. I try to entertain myself by watching TV from time to time and my last laugh — I would have to say watching old reruns of “Sanford and Son.” I’m a huge fan of old African American sitcoms.
What was the last book you read?
Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to read any books for pleasure but the last book I’ve read was “Investigative Discourse Analysis” by Don Rabon. It teaches interviewing and interrogation techniques which come in very handy with the work that I do.
What is your favorite dish to cook?
Well, I’m from Louisiana, so I will have to say I’m known for cooking great gumbo.
What is your earliest childhood memory?
My earliest childhood memory, which I speak about often, is when I first saw the photograph of Emmett Till at age 10 in Jet Magazine. I can honestly tell you, if it wasn’t for the murder of Emmett Till and seeing that photograph, I would not be a filmmaker today.
Why do you love doing what you do?
I love doing this work, because I’ve seen in my lifetime the fruits of my labor. My biggest accomplishment was the production of my first film, “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till” which took me nine years to produce, and getting his half-century old murder case reopened in 2004.
It’s rewarding to know that I have the power to alter history and to undo some of the wrongs of our past by using the powerful medium of filmmaking. It is truly a blessing to receive e-mails and letters of encouragement almost daily regarding my work letting me know that I’m impacting lives and inspiring others.
What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
The biggest obstacle that I had to overcome is doubting myself and hesitating to follow my gut instinct. There’s so much negative energy at times when you are trying to do good that it’s hard to become motivated to move forward.
How do you get through the tough times?
It’s still a learning process for me. Being that I am a self-made indie filmmaker that didn’t have any training, I continue to look for ways to reinvent myself to make a living. Civil rights activists will tell you that doing this type of work does not come with a steady paycheck and that’s my reality. But I have learned that prayer, meditation and frequently speaking to my mother helps me to stay focused and on the right path.
Who’s at the top of your hero list?
My parents would have to be first, because they instilled in me the value of speaking for those who can no longer speak for themselves, for the young and the old and those who have been affected by injustice. Secondly, without a shadow of a doubt, would be the mother of Emmett Till, the late Mamie Till-Mobley who I worked with for eight years until she passed away in 2003.
She was the most influential person I ever met and she continues to have a major influence on my life. The remarkable courage and dedication she had from the moment of Emmett’s murder until the day she passed away will forever be a part of my psyche.
What price are you willing to pay for a cause that is bigger than your own self interest?
I’m paying that price now. I was 23 years old when I started working on my first film that focused on the murder of Emmett Till and I’m 39 years old now still producing the same type of work. At times I feel that I’m running with the last of the dinosaurs, but I must push on because this mission is a much bigger cause than my own. Besides, the spirit in me won’t allow me to stop.
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
I will have to say follow your passion and learn perseverance. Fighting social injustice is a full-time job which has many ups and downs. To be successful in your quest you must be persistent and believe in yourself no matter what people tell you. I’m a true testament of what one person can do to spark change and I know I won’t be the last.
How do you want to be remembered?
I want people to remember me as someone who was dedicated to the cause and who was able to become a “freedom conductor,” sparking change in his own way — a true example of the power that one holds, but understanding that there is still much to be done.
JACKSON, Miss. - As an African American teenager in Louisiana, Keith Beauchamp tried interracial dating - behavior that prompted his parents to tell him the grisly tale of Emmett Till, who was murdered for whistling at a white woman.
The story of Till, a 14-year-old from Chicago who had come to Mississippi to visit his uncle in August 1955, was seared into Beauchamp's mind, and when he moved to New York to begin his career as a filmmaker, the slaying was his first major project.
WASHINGTON - Flanked by officials from the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center, FBI Director Robert Mueller last year announced with considerable fanfare a new partnership between his agency and civil rights organizations.
The goal: To bring justice in long-ignored murders from the civil rights era. More »
Just shy of its five-year anniversary, cable network TV One unveiled its programming plans for the fourth quarter at the annual Television Critics Association press tour last month in Los Angeles.
President and CEO Johnathan Rodgers announced that the network, which targets African American adults and is available in 40 million homes, will unveil a high-definition (HD) simulcast in December. Rodgers said the network plans to continue expanding its original programming and hopes to "reflect the breadth and the depth of the African American culture, but we also try to do programming that reflects positively on the lives of African Americans." More »