One of the most contentious debates to unfold in recent years is the way we talk about, and teach, race history in America. How does the past, and how we reckon with it, impact the way we address systemic racism, inequality and racist violence? That is the central question driving FRONTLINE’s Un(re)solved podcast series.
The Un(re)solved podcast is part of a major, multiplatform initiative by FRONTLINE to examine a federal effort to grapple with more than 150 civil rights era killings under the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act. For more than two years, a team of FRONTLINE reporters, producers and editors worked together and with partners to tell these stories.
In the podcast series, award-winning reporter and host James Edwards probes what prompted the FBI to re-investigate decades-old, unsolved civil rights era murders, and why the Department of Justice has made no arrests and brought no new federal prosecutions in the more than 10 years since the Till Act was passed. The series examines the idea of truth — not just uncovering it but, for America, the collective struggle to face our history and how it has shaped — and continues to shape — the world we’re living in today.
Each case explored in depth features the voices and experiences of victims’ family members who are still seeking justice. In partnership with StoryCorps, the team spoke with more than two dozen families who had a loved one on the Till Act list.
“The beating heart of Un(re)solved are the families,” Edwards said, adding that the series is also an exploration of grief and the impact of generational trauma. “That includes my family, as well, and it’s something I had to process and look deeper into as we made this series. I didn’t start out expecting that my own family’s history would become a part of the story.” In the series, Edwards shares the story of his grandmother who, in the 1930s, witnessed the aftermath of her uncle’s killing — one of many people whose deaths predated the civil rights era.
Reporting during a time of historic protests against racial injustice, Edwards also connects these civil rights era cases to the present day, uncovering many similarities with recent police shootings and instances of racist violence. FRONTLINE found that a third of the cases on the government’s cold case list involved a member of law enforcement.
“Before names like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery became names as familiar to me as those of my family or friends, I often thought about the many number of lives, Black like mine, who did not get to see their next life,” Edwards said. “I hope, by bringing these stories to light, that each person on the Till Act list becomes less invisible and is remembered, along with the names that are better known. All of them were someone to somebody, and the fullness of their lives deserves to be remembered.”
At a time when the honest accounting of our nation’s history on race is threatened, this work stands as an important reminder of the power of journalism. Its artistry as audio storytelling lifts up difficult facts, and elevates the voices of those who devoted their lives to finding justice for the dead. It’s unsentimental, clear eyed, and willing to focus on crimes that come with no neat ending, and no clear heroes. It’s essential listening.