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Son of man killed in 1954 civil rights case still seeking answers

(Isadore banks photo courtesy Barbara Lawrence)

CRITTENDEN COUNTY, Ark. — Isadore Banks helped bring electricity to Marion, Arkansas, but his slaying in June 1954 remains one of the nation’s oldest unsolved civil rights cases.

Now the spotlight is shining on a cold case nearly seven decades old.

"I didn't understand how much of our legacy was taken from us," said Jim Banks, his son. "Had it been an ordinary murder it would be easier to understand."

A billboard in town asks drivers "Who lynched Isadore Banks?" It was recently put up by a group of journalists from New York as an effort to cover some ground on the cold case.

But Banks is no closer to finding out what happened to his father as he was when he was 11, the year his father was killed.

His father was a World War I veteran. He helped to bring the first black-operated cotton gin to Memphis, and owned more than 1,000 acres of land during a time when the South didn't like to see such a thing.

He was tied to a tree with a chain. The family suspects jealousy as the culprit, but no one has ever been arrested for luring Banks from Marion to West Memphis, then dousing his body with gasoline and lighting him on fire for someone to find his lifeless body in a cotton field.

The family searched for Banks for two weeks before the burned abandoned body was discovered. By that time, the land he once owned was gone and all his money emptied out of bank accounts.

"As far as my father's land and money, we won't get that back because there is no way to trace it," Banks said.

He also fears that whoever killed his father and robbed the family of their legacy might not even be alive anymore, taking justice off the table.

But still, there's an urge to know who did it.

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