The Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ) conducts research and supports policy initiatives on anti-civil rights violence in the United States and other miscarriages of justice of that period. CRRJ serves as a resource for scholars, policymakers, and organizers involved in various initiatives seeking justice for crimes of the civil rights era.
In March 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt received a letter from a desperate mother. Her son, who was black, had been killed two years earlier, his body pulled from a river near Pickens, Miss.
“I am sending a contract in regards to the lynching of my son Willie Jack Heggard,” wrote Jane Heggard. “I have tried every way to have a trial, but no lawyer will accept the case, because a white man killed an innocent man.”
Despite her plea, it is unlikely we will ever know who killed Ms. Heggard’s son. Roosevelt’s assistant attorney general said it was up to the state of Mississippi, which apparently failed to investigate the crime. Like the thousands of Latin American “desaparecidos” who were terrorized in the 1970s and ’80s, Willie Jack Heggard is among America’s “disappeared,” one of hundreds of black Americans who were victims of racial violence from 1930 to 1960.
Our opportunity to capture their stories — and an important part of our nation’s history — is quickly vanishing as memories fade, witnesses die and evidence disappears. Time is running out to achieve some measure of justice.
The Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project at Northeastern University School of Law brings together lawmakers, lawyers, activists, researchers, journalists and the families of victims of racial homicides to study and redress the systemic failures of the mid-twentieth century criminal justice system. We engage in a form of legal archeology: recovering documents lost to history, examining the fault lines of each case, and conceptualizing continuities over time. Our students interview witnesses and family members, document their memories, and share official accounts of the events. We design remedial projects – including legal measures – that respond to the interests and aspirations of communities. CRRJ maintains the most comprehensive archive on racial homicides in the country, comprising records of federal, state and local law enforcement, civil rights groups, and state and federal courts, images and recorded histories. This year we partnered with archival and media experts to preserve our growing collection and render it accessible to researchers and the general public.
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