The new season of “Buried Truths” has been a long time in the making.
The fourth season of the WABE podcast, which is hosted by journalist Hank Klibanoff and focuses on civil rights cold cases, features a case that Klibanoff has been teaching his class at Emory University since 2012.
Titled “Race & Rage in Terrible Terrell,” season four features nine episodes that will tell the story of civil rights cold cases from 1958 in Terrell County, Georgia. The season will focus on two killings and assaults of Black people by members of the Dawson Police Department, including the story of James Brazier, who was killed by white police officers because he owned a brand new Chevrolet Impala.
“That just made the police jealous,” Klibanoff said. “They didn’t like the idea that it appeared he was making more money than they were.”
“Buried Truths” has been on the air since 2018, and stems from a course that Klibanoff teaches at Emory University. Klibanoff leads The Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases Protect, which is a year-round program that includes a class every fall semester. Before Emory, he spent decades writing and editing at Mississippi newspapers, The Boston Globe, and The Philadelphia Inquirer before serving as managing editor for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. He left the AJC in 2008, and in 2011 began teaching the project along with Professor Brett Gadsden, who now works at Northwestern University.
Born in Florence, Alabama in 1949, Klibanoff always had an interest in civil rights. “Buried Truths” provided an opportunity to combine that interest with his interest in journalism. The podcast has generally covered cold cases from the Civil Rights era, but will sometimes step out of that time period when it feels necessary.
For example, in 2020, Klibanoff was working on the Brazier story when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Like so many other schools, Emory shut down and the future of the semester hung in the balance. Klibanoff was trying to figure out what to do, when news broke that Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, had been shot and killed by white men in south Georgia while he was on a jog. Arbery’s story became the focus of the podcast’s third season.
“I immediately, that same day, within probably an hour, sent a message to the podcast people at WABE,” Klibanoff said. “This is just too resonant of the stories we’ve been working on.”
Now, two years later, season four of the podcast will focus on the case that’s been more than a decade in the making. Students in Klibanoff’s class at Emory helped to gather FBI records, NAACP records, and so much more to shed light on the stories of James Brazier and other victims of racially motivated violence in Terrell County in 1958.
“We’re talking about … a reign of terror that went on for years, but we’re focused on one month in particular – April and May of 1958, when James Brazier was killed … and then a month later, in the same town, a man named Willie Countryman,” Klibanoff said. “By the same police officer in both situations.”
According to Klibanoff , the police officer in question – Weyman B. Cherry – got a pay raise after Brazier’s death. After Countryman’s death, he was promoted to police chief in Dawson, Georgia.
To get the story right, Klibanoff and his students had to go through a ton of research. They were able to get FBI files on both cases, along with a report from Amos Holmes, the field secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Georgia at the time. Holmes’s report included testimony from eyewitnesses in the Brazier case, all of whom were more comfortable speaking with the NAACP investigators rather than the FBI.
“I always say to the students, the FBI file, whatever history it portrays, you shouldn’t accept as truth,” Klibanoff said. “This was an investigation the FBI was doing and so, different parts of the investigation are at different stages. But it gives you something. It names names, and gives you something to look at.”
In addition to records, “Buried Truths” takes into account memory. Klibanoff said they were able to speak to Brazier’s daughters, who were present the day the police took him from their home. They were also able to speak to the family of the police officer, Cherry.
“Without revealing too many spoilers, I’ll say it is extremely important and helpful to us, and to the telling of history, that [Cherry’s] family has been helpful to us,” Klibanoff said.
The fourth season of “Buried Truths” premieres on Feb. 22 with three episodes. After that, episodes will drop weekly, and you can listen anywhere you get your podcasts.
On Feb. 28, WABE, the National Center of Civil and Human Rights, and sponsor PNC Bank are hosting an event to commemorate the fourth season’s premiere, according to a press release. The event will offer a special look at the artifacts and images that helped inform this season’s research, and is free to attend. The event takes place at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights from 7-9 p.m. You can RSVP online.