Alvin Sykes, human rights activist, founder of Emmett Till Justice Campaign

As president of the Emmett Till Justice Campaign, Alvin Sykes was instrumental in the introduction of legislation to set up a permanent cold case unit in the Justice Department to probe civil rights era homicides. His efforts helped to establish the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, which was signed into law by President Bush in 2008.

As a self-taught human rights worker who relies on local libraries for his primary research, the Kansas City Public Library’s 2013 scholar in residence Alvin Sykes continues to work with the justice system on behalf of minorities and the poor.

In a public conversation with Library Director Crosby Kemper III, in January 2014,  Sykes talked about testifying before Congress, bending the ears of politicians, and his role in creating the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, which gives the U.S. Department of Justice the means to investigate long-ago cases of civil rights violations.

Yet much of his work has been low profile: a case of workplace discrimination here, food stamps denied or an unfair eviction there. Frequently, his work is not only unpublicized but also uncompensated.

Sykes’ life is examined in the monograph Pursuit of Truth, written by Monroe Dodd and published by the Kansas City Public Library.

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