MONROE, Ga. (AP) _ It's become a familiar, if painful, annual tradition here: Civil rights activists gathered Friday at the Moore's Ford Bridge to re-enact the unsolved 1946 lynchings of two Black couples.
It's a gruesome ceremony that can be difficult to watch. The scripted rattle of gunfire, screams from victims and racial epithets from the White mob are quickly followed by the all-too-real sound of sobbing from the crowd.
But this year's actors and observers are hopeful authorities may be closer to bringing the aging suspects of the lynching to justice.
After decades of few developments in the case, federal and state authorities swarmed the backyard of a local house this month in search of clues after they got "recent information" about the 62-year-old killings.
Officials won't disclose the details of their findings, but activists are suddenly optimistic.
"The last three years, we've had more pertinent information coming in," said Bobby Howard, a local activist who roamed the neighborhoods for 41 years in search of possible witnesses. "We're much closer -- hopefully. You have to be cautiously optimistic."
Howard and others have long said that some of the culprits in the lynchings of Roger and Dorothy Malcom and George and Mae Murray Dorsey still are alive.
An angry white mob of as many as 30 people dragged the two Black couples from a car and tied them to trees on July 25, 1946. The mob fired three volleys of bullets at the couples, leaving their dead bodies slumped behind in the dirt. One of the victims, Dorothy Malcom, was seven months pregnant.
An outraged President Harry Truman dispatched the FBI to the town of Monroe, about 45 miles east of Atlanta, but the feds were met with a wall of silence. The FBI identified 55 possible suspects after the killings, but no one was ever arrested, partly due to a lack of witnesses.
The case grew colder for years, until 1991 when Clinton Adams came forward claiming he saw the lynching unfold when he was a 10-year-old while hiding in the bushes near the bridge.
Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes reopened the case about eight years ago, and the Justice Department followed suit last year. But any recent police work focused on the killings had remained under wraps until this month, when investigators made public their search of the plot of land.
Activists hope the annual re-enactment will keep the lynching in the public eye and lure a reluctant witness to come forward.
Friday's event began with a boisterous pep rally in a creaky Black church in downtown Monroe and ended nearly seven hours later at the bridge, a modest concrete structure spanning a lonely two-lane road.
Actors playing the White mob -- mostly a group of liberal Atlanta residents with cars sporting Obama bumper stickers -- rehearsed the gruesome scene for hours.
When the car carrying the two Black couples reached the bridge, they sprung into action. Two white men demanded they get out of the vehicle, and soon the rest of the mob materialized from the woods, wrenching the two couples from the car and dragging them to a dusty clearing beside the bridge.
Surrounding them, they put nooses on their necks and fired three volleys of bullets at them. As they lay dead, another actor drenched them with fake blood as the hushed crowd watched. Amid the silence, someone started singing a soulful version of the hymn "Precious Lord."
"It's horrible. It's gruesome," said state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, who organizes the event. "But this is what the Malcoms and the Dorseys endured."
Afterward the White actors, many who began crying themselves, gave hearty hugs to their Black victims. Brooks encouraged everyone to return to the church, where food and fellowship awaited.
But one person was slow to leave. Sarah Maddox, a 78-year-old relative of the Dorseys, dabbed her eyes as she sat at the foot of the bridge.
"It's awful. It's awful. It's awful," she said, her voice choking up. "I didn't want to get this close because it's awful. At night, you don't want to sleep. These people are still around, and they're dirty."
She was just a teenager when the two couples were killed. No one was charged with a crime then, and despite the recent search, she's doubtful anyone will be charged with one now.
"Something needs to be done," she said. "But I fear we'll be waiting forever for some kind of reconciliation."