8.22.16 — The Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ) at Northeastern University School of Law has issued the first full account of the 1947 jailhouse killing of Henry Gilbert, an African American farmer in Harris County, Georgia. Based on official records, interviews and extensive field work, the report, prepared by Northeastern law students Tara Dunn and Ariel Goeun Lee, provides an account of the events leading to the tragic death of Henry “Peg” Gilbert, 42, and the prosecution of his wife, Mae Henry Gilbert.

“These events illuminate the quotidian racial violence of an era, economic relations within an African-American community and the capricious arm of the law in the maintenance of racial subordination,” according to the report.

In May 1947, Gilbert, a prosperous farmer who owned and farmed a 100-acre tract in Troup County, was alleged to have harbored a fugitive from justice. Four days after his arrest and detention by authorities from neighboring Harris County, Gilbert was killed while in custody. At the time, his wife, Mae, told a journalist that when she kissed her husband in his casket, it was as if she were “kissing a sackful of little pieces of bone.” CRRJ interviewed two of the daughters of Henry and Mae Gilbert and his grandson, Darren Mills. They told CRRJ that those who killed Gilbert resented his success and wanted to get rid of a black leader.

Gilbert’s arrest came in the wake of the shooting death of a white farmer by a black man, Gus Davidson, who claimed to have acted in self-defense. The CRRJ investigators uncovered new information about the events surrounding the death of Gilbert and the escape of Davidson, who is said to have fled Georgia hidden in a coffin. Davidson was arrested on a fugitive warrant in New Jersey several years after Gilbert was slain. He was extradited to Georgia, where he was convicted and sentenced to death. A pardon kept him out of the electric chair, and Davidson remained in Georgia until his death in 1966.

CRRJ is working closely with the affected families and interested persons in Georgia to bring a measure of justice to this cold case from the Jim Crow era. Of CRRJ’s efforts, Gilbert family member Darren Mills stated “the family is deeply grateful for the work Tara Dunn and Ariel Goeun Lee did to uncover the truth about the killing of my grandfather by law enforcement officers from the state of Georgia. Prior to their investigation, I knew nothing about that part of my family’s history. My grandfather’s prosperity is what led to his murder.”

CRRJ conducts research and supports policy initiatives on anti-civil rights violence in the United States and other miscarriages of justice from the 1930s through the 1960s. CRRJ has been involved in a number of high-profile investigations. Notably, CRRJ’s leadership led to a 2010 landmark lawsuit against Franklin County, Mississippi, filed on behalf of the families of two black teens killed by Klansmen in 1964.

“CRRJ investigators were fortunately able to interview one of the daughters of the victim of this terrible custodial killing. She passed away earlier this month,” said Professor Margaret Burnham, director of CRRJ. “Time is pitted against us in this urgent work, for with every passing year, the group of survivors of this era narrows.”

CRRJ’s report on the Gilbert case is available at http://nuweb9.neu.edu/civilrights/georgia/henry-gilbert/.

About Northeastern University School of Law

The nation’s leader in experiential legal education since 1968, Northeastern University School of Law offers the longest-running, most extensive experience-based legal education program in the country and is a national leader in legal education reform. Founded with cooperative legal education as the cornerstone of its program, Northeastern guarantees its students an unparalleled full year of practical legal work. All students participate in four, full-time legal placements, and can choose from the more than 900 employers worldwide participating in the school’s signature Cooperative Legal Education Program. The future of legal education since 1968, Northeastern University School of Law blends theory and practice, providing students with a unique set of skills and experience to successfully practice law.