First off, watch this video, The Trouble I've Seen, from the project:
Featuring the work of Northeastern University School of Law's Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ), "The Trouble I've Seen" follows the investigations of three harrowing civil rights cold cases. Founded by Professor Margaret Burnham, CRRJ takes on cases that both horrify us and beg us to correct the record, to search for reconciliation and remediation for families and communities that even decades later shudder in the shadows of bigotry and injustice. "The Trouble I've Seen" is narrated by Julian Bond, former chairman of the NAACP.
NPR covered the work of the project in January 2015 in The Goal: To Remember Each Jim Crow Killing, From The '30s On
One case that sticks out:
In 1948, a young white man and a 56-year-old black man, co-workers at a base near Mobile [Alabama], got off of a bus on the same stop one night. And the black man asked the white fellow if he wanted to have a beer with him. The white guy said, "I don't drink with (blank)." And then he beat the other man to death on the street. The murderer was charged but he was promptly released and served no time in jail.
We found that man, the white murderer, living in Florida. We also found the family members of the victim, and many of them were still in Mobile. They weren't interested in reviving any criminal charges against the killer, but what they did want was acknowledgment that the legal system had failed them and their family member and some means of commemorating the life of their loved one, Rayfield Davis.
In "Restoring Justice In Civil Rights Cold Cases
," Burnham was interviewed on WBUR radio, and she discussed the case of John Earle Reese:
Just 16 years old in 1955, Reese was shot to death in an East Texas cafe by white men who were hoping to terrorize local blacks into shelving plans for a new school. The two men were arrested, but spent no time in jail. Residents of Reese’s town said that the case was barely contested because African-Americans had little power in much of the South in the 1950s.
“African-Americans were not part of the political process,” Burnham said. “They had no vote. They, effectively, were closed out of the political process and, therefore, they had nothing to say about all of the law enforcement officials and judicial officers who presided over the criminal justice process. There were no African-American police officers, there were no sheriffs, there were no judges. There were very, very few lawyers.”
Reese’s name had largely been forgotten until students at the CRRJ spent two years looking into the circumstances surrounding his death. Recently, however, Rusk County, Texas, named a road after Reese and created a small memorial to remember his family’s tragedy.
Many readers may not be aware that Congressman John Lewis sponsored the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act
, which was introduced Feb 8, 2007, in the 110th Congress andwas enacted and signed by the president on Oct 7, 2008.
As the Emmett Till Act is described at the Northeastern University School of Law's website:
Emmett Till was brutally murdered in 1955 at the age of 14 while visiting relatives in the Mississippi Delta region. The murder was allegedly sparked by Till’s conversing with Carolyn Bryant, a white woman who kept a store in the area Till was visiting. Bryant’s husband, Roy, and his half-brother J.W. Milam were indicted for the murder and tried in September 1955, in Sumner, Mississippi. After a 67-minute deliberation, both were acquitted of capital murder. However, both Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam admitted to the murders in a 1956 interview with Look magazine. After being acquitted, however, no charges could constitutionally be brought against them again. On May 10, 2004, the Department of Justice announced that it was reopening the Till case for further investigation.
Following the reopening of the Till case, there was political movement to support re-examining many of the unsolved murders of the Civil Rights Era. The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007 was introduced in Congress in 2007. Representatives Kenny Hulshof (R-MO) (retired) and John Lewis (D-GA) introduced the act in the House; and Senators Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the act in the Senate. The act had over 50 bipartisan co-sponsors in Congress. The House of Representatives passed it on June 20, 2007, by a vote of 422 to 2; only Reps. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) voted against it. In the Senate, the act was passed unanimously on September 24, 2008 and signed into law by President George W. Bush in October 2008.
The act directs the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to coordinate the investigation and prosecution of Civil Rights Era homicides that occurred on or before December 31, 1969. The act also directs the DOJ and FBI to coordinate their activities with state and local law enforcement and to make annual reports to Congress on the progress of investigations and prosecutions falling under the auspices of the act. If the act is not re-approved by Congress at the end of fiscal year 2017, it will not be effective anymore. For fiscal years 2008 through 2017, the act authorized appropriations of $10,000,000 per year to the Attorney General to be allocated by the Department’s Civil Rights Division and the FBI; $2,000,000 per year for grants to state or local law enforcement agencies for costs associated with their investigation and prosecution of civil rights era homicides; and $1,500,000 per year to DOJ’s Community Relations Service to bring together law enforcement agencies and communities to further the investigation of these homicides. However, for the first two years the Till Act has been in effect, no funds were appropriated to DOJ under the act’s authorizing provisions. However, in fiscal year 2010, Congress approved the President’s modest request for $1.6 million in funds.
Given the current makeup of Congress and the Senate, one wonders if there will be a reauthorization in 2017, and a chance to get more than a "modest request" for funding approved?
Restorative Justice utilizes a number of forms of remediation— there is no one solution:
CRRJ’s remediation program assesses and supports policy measures to redress the harms of the Civil Rights Era. These measures include criminal prosecutions, truth and reconciliation proceedings, state and federal pardons, and apologies by state and private entities that bear responsibility for the harms. CRRJ collaborates with scholars across the country, activists in the civil rights community, and non-academic researchers in pursuing this work.
Below is a brief clip of Margaret Burnham talking about truth commissions.
There is also an option for reparations.
You can take a look at the current cases being researched by state, time period, and by victim.
Margaret Burnham has had an amazing career in the pursuit of justice:
Professor Burnham joined the Northeastern University School of Law faculty in 2002. Her fields of expertise are civil and human rights, comparative constitutional rights, and international criminal law. She is the founder of the School of Law’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, which engages students in legal matters relating to the 1960s US civil rights movement. In 2010, Professor Burnham headed a team of outside counsel and law students in a landmark case that settled a federal lawsuit: Professor Burnham’s team accused Franklin County Mississippi law enforcement officials of assisting Klansmen in the kidnapping, torture and murder of two 19-year-olds, Henry Dee and Charles Eddie Moore. The case and settlement were widely covered in the national press.
Professor Burnham began her career at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. In the 1970s, she represented civil rights and political activists. In 1977, she became the first African American woman to serve in the Massachusetts judiciary, when she joined the Boston Municipal Court bench as an associate justice. In 1982, she became partner in a Boston civil rights firm with an international human rights practice. In 1993, South African president Nelson Mandela appointed Professor Burnham to serve on an international human rights commission to investigate alleged human rights violations within the African National Congress. The commission was a precursor to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Fighters for justice often come from the same family. Burnham's parents, Dorothy and Louis, were lifelong progressives. Here's a brief bio of her father, Louis Burnham
Louis E. Burnham was the Editor of “Freedom,” the newpaper Paul Robeson founded, Associate Editor of the “National Guardian” in the 1950’s and a well known lecturer on African-American affairs.
Born in 1915 and educated in Harlem, New York, Burnham attended City College of the City University of New York. As a college student, he became interested in the Civil Rights Movement and joined the American Student Movement and the Young Communist League. He later travelled around the country and organized the first chapters of the American Student Union on black college campuses and was the Youth Secretary of the National Negro Congress. He served as Executive Secretary of the Southern Negro Youth Congress and was editor of its newspaper and its right to vote campaigns. Burnham also helped organize the sharecroppers movement and was active in many campaigns to end segregation in the south. Burnham died in 1960.
Dorothy Burnham (interviewed at age 100
) has also been a lifelong activist
In 1940, Dorothy and her husband, Louis E. Burnham moved to Birmingham, Alabama to the headquarters of the Southern Negro Youth Congress, where they joined other young African American progressives and became life-long advocates for social justice; Louis and Dorothy worked out of that office in Birmingham until it closed in 1949. Upon returning to Brooklyn, Dorothy became a professor of Biology at Hostas Community College, and Empire State College in the CUNY system, during which time she was also active in the New York State Teachers Union.
In the 1980s and 90s, Dorothy Burnham was an active leader in the national organization Women for Racial and Economic Equality, as well as with the Sisters Against South African Apartheid, Genes and Gender, and Womens International League for Peace and Freedom.
Margaret's sister, Linda Burnham
, can be seen in the documentary film about second wave feminism, "She's Beautiful When She's Angry
". I covered her last week in Black Kos Tuesday's Chile
, looking at her work with the National Domestic Workers Alliance
Angela Davis speaks here about her lifelong relationship with Margaret Burnham:
We cannot allow the past to be buried, allowing younger generations to assume that racist violence is a new phenomenon. The struggle to redress not only the past, but the present continues, and we need strong warriors like Margaret Burnham and the young attorneys she mentors to do so.