Suspects are dying and evidence is getting colder and colder.
The FBI, which has been fighting to solve decades-old civil rights cases, is urging the families of Black victims to help in any way they can.
For the past three years, federal agents have been seeking leads in nearly three dozen cases involving African Americans who were murdered throughout the South during the turbulent 1960s as they fought for equal rights.
"We have done everything we can to find those families and we've run out of leads," Cynthia Deitle, unit chief for the FBI's civil rights division, told The Associated Press. "Whether it's a spouse, child or parent. We've even gone as far as locating cousins who are the next of kin."
What the feds need varies from evidence and other details to bolster their case to individuals to whom they can provide updates regarding investigations.
Officials note that they have seen some success since they were given the authority to open Civil-Rights-Era cases three years ago. For example, they won the 2003 conviction of Ernest Avery Avants, found guilty of federal charges of aiding and abetting in the 1966 Klan killing of Ben Chester White, a Black handyman shot to death to possibly lure Martin Luther King Jr. to Natchez, Miss. They also convinced a jury to convict James Ford Seale, a reputed Klansman, in 2007 for kidnapping Charles Moore and Henry Dee, who in 1964 were beaten, bound and dumped into a Mississippi River backwater while still alive.
But other cases still linger. Take, for example, the case of Johnny Robinson, a Black teen shot by police in 1963 in the aftermath of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala. Or the murder of John Earl Reese, a 16-year-old who died in 1955 when two men fired shots on a Black cafe in Gregg County, Texas.
The FBI is concerned that the opportunity to try those responsible for these crimes is rapidly fading. Nearly half of those identified as suspects in homicides are now dead, according to agency officials.
"I think the window has been closing for a couple of years because many of the potential defendants are dying or have died. This was an effort that would have been wonderful about 15 years ago," said Susan Glisson, director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi.