The American Bar Association (ABA) has awarded its distinguished Silver Gavel award to the latest season of “Buried Truths,” the podcast based on a course taught by Emory’s Pulitzer Prize–winning professor and journalist Hank Klibanoff.
Season 3 focused on last year’s shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man pursued by three armed white men near the coastal Georgia city of Brunswick. The ABA selected it as one of six recipients of its 2021 awards recognizing exemplary work.
ABA President Patricia Lee Refo will present the award during a virtual ceremony July 13. The event is free and open to the public.
“What matters most to me is that we got it right and were able to say it clearly,” Klibanoff says. “It’s thrilling to be honored for having accomplished that in telling a story that is surrounded by complicated legal matters.”
Working with five Emory undergraduates, writer Richard Halicks and the production team at public radio station WABE, Klibanoff unearthed the centuries-long roots of Arbery’s killing in a story told across seven episodes.
It marked the first time the podcast focused on a current incident. Students in Klibanoff’s Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases Project course usually examine killings that took place in the modern civil rights era, roughly from 1945 to 1968.
Among the new details: the family histories of both Arbery’s killers, which include ancestors who enslaved people and fought for the Confederacy. They also uncovered Arbery’s link to one of the most well-known enslaved people in Georgia, Bilali Mohammed on Sapelo Island. Mohammed was the highly educated author of a manuscript on Islamic belief and rules discovered after his death in 1857.
Klibanoff discussed the latest developments in the Arbery case with WABE host Rose Scott in February, two months before the U.S. Department of Justice charged the accused with federal hate crimes. He may provide additional updates closer to trial dates in the case, which are expected by year’s end.
“Buried Truths” won a Peabody Award and Robert F. Kennedy Award in 2019 for its first season, focusing on a Black farmer, Isaiah Nixon, who was killed by two white men in 1948 for voting; and a regional Edward R. Murrow Award for its second season, about the 1962 shooting of a Black teenager, A. C. Hall, by two white Macon police officers.
In the fall, Klibanoff’s class will return to the civil rights era and examine the 1958 killing of James Brazier, who worked three jobs to buy a new Chevrolet Impala for his family.
The car drew the ire of Dawson, Georgia police at a time of escalated racial tension during desegregation. Brazier died at age 31 from a police beating, after asking an officer to stop striking his father during a traffic stop for suspected drunken driving — as the men returned from a day at church.
The case is planned to be the focus of a Season 4 for Buried Truths, which will be recorded sometime next year.