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Dear Friends of CRRJ,

As we move into the second half of 2024, CRRJ has picked up new projects and taken old ones in new directions. 

 

We are collecting and processing data for Version 2.0 of the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive, which we expect to launch by the end of this year. We anticipate adding hundreds of new cases to the archive. Dr. Jay Driskell, our lead historian, has combed newly released NAACP Records at the Library of Congress, as well as War Department records at the National Archives and Records Administration, and our students have researched incidents in the border states. Our audience expanded significantly in the last quarter, thanks in no small measure to our partners at Northeastern University Library.  

 

We continue to explore new applications of the archival data. In that vein, our educational consultant, Sara Merlo, is creating curricular materials for the high school AP classroom based on cases in the archive. These instructional materials will be free to educators. 

 

A case we researched years ago, the killing of Pvt. Albert King, garnered considerable public attention in March. 

CRRJ’s associate director, Rose Zoltek-Jick, alongside pro bono counsel at the law firm of Morgan Lewis, attended a military service in his honor in March. The event, in effect, condemned the racist failure of the U.S. War Department to protect King and to prosecute his slayer, a military police officer, in 1941.



Our work in the reparations arena, within CRRJ’s Racial Redress and Reparations Lab, is ongoing, with two projects commanding our attention until the end of the year. Starting with the cases in our archive, and in partnership with the reparations expert and law professor Roy Brooks, we are exploring federal programs that would offer redress to families whose loved ones were killed in incidents of historical racial violence. As a designated research partner for the City of Boston’s Reparations Task Force, we are investigating twentieth century practices of racial exclusion and subordination in the areas of education, employment, and housing.  

 

Our Spring 2024 clinic students undertook investigations in nearly 50 cases in Tennessee and Louisiana. Noteworthy was an investigation of multiple killings by a police officer in New Orleans in the 1950s. Four students traveled to New Orleans to meet with one of the affected families and to turn their findings over to public officials there. 

In sum, we face the remainder of this year with no shortage of work. It’s a busy time, but as our project has matured and expanded in its mission to address the harms aimed at people of color by mid-twentieth century courts and legal institutions, we are confident we have the staff, expertise, and vision to add to our understanding of the period and to serve the needs of legacy communities.

CRRJ Director and founder, Professor Margaret Burnham

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Featured Case

Above: Pierre Sylve was killed in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana in 1934, by a posse of white men. Images courtesy of newspaper reports housed in the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive.

White Supremacy Upheld: Pierre Sylve, killed in 1934, Louisiana

The only photograph Michael Sylve remembers seeing of his grandfather, Pierre Euchere Sylve, was on his aunt’s dresser in her home in New Orleans, Louisiana.


“He had a dress shirt on,” said Michael. “His hair was kind of wavy and he had very dark skin.”


“I wish I could have seen that photo,” said Lydia Sylve, Michael’s daughter, who also joined the Zoom call with CRRJ Research Assistant Lydia Beal and Legal Fellow Malcolm Clarke, on April 11.


This photograph, along with many other precious family keepsakes, was lost in the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.


But now, Michael Sylve and his daughter Lydia Sylve are collaborating with CRRJ to memorialize Pierre Solve, who was killed 90 years ago.


“I wasn’t even in this world when all that took place,” said Sylve. “I never thought this would come up because it happened almost a hundred years ago, and now it has kind of opened up the wound a little bit … now the truth is coming out.”


Lydia Sylve first contacted CRRJ after researching her family history on the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive.


Pierre Sylve’s death was first investigated by students from the Southern University Law Center (SULC), during an externship coordinated by former CRRJ Legal Fellow Raymond Wilkes, and SULC Professor Ada Goodly Lampkin.


After finding her great-grandfather’s file in the archive, Lydia Sylve reached out to CRRJ to request assistance in accessing the original records pertaining to Pierre Sylve’s killing, housed within the archive and Northeastern University’s digital repository.


Pierre Sylve, 67, was killed May 11, 1934, by a posse in Pointe à la Hache, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. According to newspaper accounts, Deputy Sheriff Jules Morel went to Sylve’s farmhouse to serve him a warrant for carrying a concealed weapon. The two men fought. Some accounts suggest the elder Sylve shot Morel in the shoulder or back. After escaping to a neighbor’s home, Morel alerted Sheriff L. Dauterive, who gathered a heavily armed posse of police and citizens, who then headed to the Sylve property.


A four-hour gun battle ensued, and several tear gas bombs were launched by sheriff deputies, attempting to drive Sylve from his home.


Pierre Sylve died in a hailstorm of bullets, with two fatal shots to the head from Morel’s pistol.



In reporting his killing, the local white press referred to Sylve as the “Plaquemines Desperado” and printed photographs of the posse, proudly standing on his land, following the gun-battle. The Pittsburgh Courier, a widely circulated Black publication, covered the gun battle in the May 19, 1934 edition. Reporters here noted: “White supremacy was upheld. Down here, you know, they kill you if they can’t serve a warrant on you.”

Read About Sylve's Case

Updates at CRRJ and in the Field

Pvt. Albert King receives full military service, 83 years after his murder

More than eight decades after he was shot and killed by a white military police officer outside Fort Benning, Georgia, Private Albert King was honored in a full military service, March 24, 2024.


The ceremony, held at Porterdale Cemetery, Columbus, GA. finally accorded Pvt. King the recognition he was denied so many decades ago, and included the unveiling of a new headstone, full military honors, and proclamations from the offices of Congressman Shri Thanedar (D-MI) and Congressman Sanford Bishop (D-GA).


The service was hosted by Helen Russell, Pvt. King’s surviving cousin, CRRJ and Morgan Lewis, and conducted by the Georgia Army National Guard Military Funeral Honors Program.

Read More

Above: Staff Sgt. Laurence Henderson presented the flag to Albert King’s descendants, with CRRJ Associate Director Rose Zoltek-Jick by their side. Photo by Alyssa Pointer, The New York Times. More on King's case can be found in the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive.

CRRJ students travel to New Orleans to investigate 1953 killing

At the end of April, four students from CRRJ's 2024 Spring Clinic traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana, a trip that signified the culmination of their clinical investigations. Isabella Ulm (NUSL '24), Morgan Heithcock (NUSL '25), Brianne Ortiz (NUSL '25), and Heather Atherton (NUSL '25) were accompanied by CRRJ'S Elizabeth Zitrin Fellow and clinical instructor, Attorney Olivia Strange.


These students had spent 15 weeks meticulously pouring over documents related to their case investigations, including the 1953 killing of Sydney Batiste, murdered when he was 17 years old by Sergeant Edward Touzet.

Read More

15 new cases presented at students' Spring Clinic Grand Rounds

The Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ) at Northeastern University School of Law, held their annual Spring Clinic Grand Rounds on April 23, 24 and 25, 2024.


These afternoon sessions, held in Dockser Hall and online, gave the clinic’s 15 participating students the opportunity to showcase case investigations, carefully and thoroughly undertaken during the semester, before a panel of scholars and experts.


Some of the descendants of victims discussed by students were also in attendance, sharing in a retelling of their family history that had before then been unknown to them.

Read More

Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive presented to Black journalists at annual conference in Tulsa, OK

The National Association of Black Journalists held their annual Region III conference in Tulsa, OK, April 12-13.


Gina Nortonsmith, Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive's project archivist, and Catherine McGloin, CRRJ's Communication's Specialist, presented the archive to hundreds of journalists from across the South.


Journalists, print, digital and broadcast, were in attendance from states including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Texas. These locations also feature prominently in the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive 

Read More

Donated Bodies: CRRJ Director to co-direct new project, examining treatment of human remains

This summer, CRRJ Director Margaret Burnham is co-directing a project that seeks to evaluate the ethical concerns raised by the widespread U.S. practice of disposing of executed and deceased prisoners’ remains by donating their bodies to science, medicine or archival purposes.


The 8-week endeavor, titled The “Donated” Bodies of Deceased Prisoners and the Wrongfully Executed: A Pilot Project in Ethics, Law, Human Remains and Memory, will also be led by Professor Kris Manjapra, Center for Law, Equity and Race (CLEAR) Fellow, and Stearns Trustee Professor of History and Global Studies in the departments of History and Cultures, Societies and Global Studies.

Read More

Congratulations to CRRJ's Class of 2024

We wish to extend a warm and well-deserved congratulations to all of the graduating students who participated in CRRJ's Spring Clinic 2023-2024.T heir work has been central to CRRJ's accomplishments over the last 18 months.


Their case investigations have enriched and expanded CRRJ’s Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive and are invaluable to this project.


We wish them all of the success and fulfillment as they embark on the next phase of the journey of life.

Read More

At the beginning of 2024, CRRJ launched their new series, re-connecting with past Clinic students to find out how their time working on CRRJ's cases impacted their professional careers and personal outlook.

This Month: Rashid Richardson (NUSL '11)

Forging your path and creating a career niche in Artificial Intelligence

If Rashida Richardson (NUSL '11) has a motto it might be "you just have to figure it out."


She figured out her place in history, growing up in 1990s New York and Connecticut with thanks to her "home homework" on Black history set by her father.


She figured out her unique career trajectory, after a brief stint in policymaking in D.C. ended that dream and refocused her attention on Northeastern Law.


She figured out a niche in the nascent field of artificial intelligence upon graduating in an economic environment still grappling with the fallout from the Great Recession.


“I don’t think it was as intentional as some people in my class, of wanting to be a civil rights litigator, but there was a lot nurtured in me over time that directed me on that route,” said Richardson, now a law and technology policy expert, in a recent interview with CRRJ.

Read Richardson's Alumnae Profile


Events

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CRRJ Spotlight

Spotlight on: Malcolm Clarke, Elizabeth Zitrin Justice Fellow and CRRJ Attorney

Criminal justice reform, community advocacy, reparations legislation: Malcolm Clarke’s vision for his legal career has expanded in unexpected directions following his tenure as an Elizabeth Zitrin Justice Fellow at Northeastern Law’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project.

Above: Malcolm Clarke, Elizabeth Zitrin Justice Fellow and CRRJ Attorney. Photo courtesy of Clarke.

“This fellowship really opened my eyes up to the different possibilities with a legal degree,” said Clarke, who joined CRRJ in fall 2022 and will be moving onto the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender this August.


Originally from Jersey City, New Jersey, Clarke earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Howard University and, after graduating in 2016, worked for several consulting firms in Washington D.C.


The following year, as President Donald Trump entered the White House and Executive Order 13769 – the Muslim immigration ban – came into effect, Clarke was sat at this desk overlooking Reagan airport, in-between projects and contemplating “Am I going to be doing this forever? Is this what I want to be doing for the rest of my career?”

Read the Interview

We Are Hiring

Elizabeth Zitrin Justice Fellow



CRRJ seeks a community activist/organizer to build a project based on the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive; design, manage, and execute CRRJ’s community-based programs; promote strong collaborative relations with CRRJ’s non-academic partner organizations; and engage in other activities to support its restorative justice work. This is a full-time, in residence position.

Apply Now

In Case You Missed It...

Violence and Public Memory Discussion Hosted by CRRJ

On April 3, 2024, CRRJ invited Martin Blatt, Northeastern Professor Emeritus and editor of the new collection, Violence and Public Memory to discuss chapters from this title, published in 2023. Blatt was joined by volume contributor Maria John, Assistant Professor at UMass Boston. They spoke about the complex relationship between violence and how it is publicly remembered, with particular attention paid to various political ideologies and structures, including apartheid, fascism, and homophobia.

Read More

Building the Archive: Beyond Lynching and Police Killings

While CRRJ historian Dr. Jay Driskell's search through the NAACP papers at the Library of Congress revealed several "lost" cases, it forced a significant reckoning with the definition of lynching itself. To accurately document the experience of Black communities throughout the Jim Crow South, he had to include the full spectrum of incidents in which white perpetrators were able to kill Black people with impunity.

Read More

Launched in 2007 by University Distinguished Professor Margaret Burnham, the center of CRRJ’s work is the investigation of racially motivated homicides in the Jim Crow South, and the creation of the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive, which contains more than 1,000 cases. In 2022, CRRJ became a program of the Law School's Center for Law, Equity and Race. 

Support CRRJ

We rely on donors like you to continue our work. Donations are used for litigation expenses, field research and restorative justice projects. With your help, we can continue training tomorrow’s civil rights lawyers, filling in the gaps in U.S. history and informing our national dialogue on racial redress and criminal justice.