Emory University Students Find the Grave of a Civil Rights-Era Martyr

Dorothy Nixon Williams visiting the grave of her father, more than 67 years after his murder.

In 1948, Isiah Nixon of Montgomery County, Georgia, cast a vote in the Democratic primary election. Just four years earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that White-only primary elections were unconstitutional. But when the federal government stepped in to try to open up the democratic process to African Americans in the South, other means were used to enforce the rules of Jim Crow.

Isiah Nixon was shot as he stood on the front porch of his home of September 8, 1948. He died two days later. Fearful for their lives, Nixon’s wife and her six children fled to Jacksonville, Florida. Two White brothers were arrested in the case. One was acquitted by an all-White jury and charges were dropped against the other brother.

Emory University in Atlanta offers a course on civil rights cold cases taught by Hank Klibanoff, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the James M. Cox Professor of Journalism. Each semester, students examine the facts on one particular cold case and this past fall the Nixon murder was the focus of the class. Nixon’s daughter Dorothy, six years old at the time of his murder, traveled to Atlanta to participate in a classroom discussion.

Two students in the class wanted to travel to the scene of the crime and Professor Klibanoff accompanied them on their journey. They visited a local cemetery and found a group of graves with concrete slabs where inscriptions were written with a finger or stick before the cement dried. They would find one slab that when cleaned revealed Nixon’s named and the dates of his birth and death. A small headstone at the grave had a one word inscription, “Father.”

The students notified Dorothy Nixon Williams. Recently, the students joined with family members for a ceremony at the grave site.


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