More than 50 years later, the US Department of Justice opens a cold case investigation in the murder of James Lewis Cates Jr., a Black Chapel Hill resident who was stabbed to death by white supremacists outside the UNC student union in 1970.
“We don’t know where this process will lead, but we’re glad it’s happening, even if all these decades later,” Nate Davis and Senator Valerie P. Foushee, cousins of Cates, said in a statement. written.
The case was opened under the DOJ Cold Case Initiativean effort to identify and investigate racist murders in the pre-1980s, pursuant to the Emmett Till Act of 2008. The DOJ has partnered with groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP ), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and the National Urban League to investigate these cases, of which more than 160 have been investigated to date.
According to the DOJ website, 29 open cases are currently being investigated under the Till Act, including the Cates case.
In November 1970, Cates was murdered by members of a Durham-based white supremacist motorcycle gang called the Storm Troopers during a fight outside a dance staged at the UNC student union. The dance itself was a nightly marathon organized by the African American Studies Committee and the Carolina Union. During the fight, Cates was stabbed in the chest and started bleeding. Investigations into the event revealed that members of UNCPD and Chapel Hill Police were present or arrived shortly after Cates was stabbed, but failed to provide life-saving medical attention, resulting in his death.
At the time, the men linked to Cates’ murder had been charged but not convicted.
In the decades since, Cates’ murder has often come up in conversations about tensions between black students and the university, particularly with the university and local police. Last year, Foushee and Davis published an essay in the Assembly“Say his name, commemorating Cates.
“If he died today like he did in 1970, you would hear ‘James Cates’ on national television, with social media hashtags and street protests. But we lost James Cates long before it became mainstream that the names of black victims resonated in the consciousness of the general public,” the essay reads. “We haven’t forgotten though.”
In 2020, members of UNC’s Black Student Movement formed the James Lewis Cates Memorial Committee, which focused on preserving and honoring the memory of Cates, among other things, by proposing a permanent memorial in the UNC “Pit” area near where Cates was murdered. So far, this proposal has not been honored by the university.
The James Cates Remembrance Coalition, a community coalition made up of many members of Cates’ family, also proposed that the student store building at UNC, which neighbors the student union, be renamed in honor of Cates. Since removing the white supremacist name Josephus Daniels of Student Stores as of July 2020, it has since not been renamed.
Foushee says she and members of the community have been waiting 50 years for an investigation like this to take place.
“Now with the Emmett Till Act, it’s possible to do that,” Foushee said.
“We would like to express our deepest gratitude to our community, especially those who loved him and kept his memory alive, and extend our sincere thanks to so many people who refused to let the name of James Cates fade again “, continued the statement of the family. . “Thank you to so many students on campus, both in the 1970s and later, who advocated to remember James Cates, and to the members of the James Cates Remembrance Coalition, whose work to preserve the story surrounding our tragic loss continues.”
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