The efforts of North­eastern Uni­ver­sity law pro­fessor Mar­garet Burnham and her stu­dents have led to a land­mark set­tle­ment in a 46-​​year-​​old civil rights murder case involving the Ku Klux Klan in Franklin County, Mississippi.

Burnham directs the School of Law’s Civil Rights and Restora­tive Jus­tice (CRRJ) Project, which con­ducts research and sup­ports policy ini­tia­tives on mis­car­riages of jus­tice in U.S. civil rights cases from the 1950s to the early 1970s. Burnham said the CRRJ Project assists fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties seeking to rec­on­cile with trou­bling events of the past, par­tic­u­larly in the South.

This case revolved around the murder of two African-​​American teenagers—Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee—in May 1964. Moore and Dee were kid­napped while hitch­hiking near Meadville, Miss., and brought to Homo­chitto National Forest, where they were tor­tured, then tied up and later thrown into the Mis­sis­sippi River.

One of the vic­tims’ brothers, Thomas Moore, was invited to speak about the case at a North­eastern con­fer­ence in April 2007, after fed­eral inves­ti­ga­tors reopened it. Moore invited Burnham to attend the crim­inal trial that summer of a Ku Klux Klansman accused in the case, who was later con­victed of kid­nap­ping and conspiracy.

Burnham ulti­mately rep­re­sented the vic­tims’ fam­i­lies in a civil suit—filed in 2008—against Franklin County, alleging the sheriff’s office had had enough knowl­edge to pre­vent the mur­ders. Burnham enlisted North­eastern stu­dents from the CRRJ to help her delve into the matter. Fif­teen stu­dents worked on the case over a two-​​and-​​a-​​half year span, holding weekly dis­cus­sions with Burnham, scouring through police files and inter­viewing witnesses.

It was a very chal­lenging case, legally and fac­tu­ally, and the stu­dents were dogged in their research and their approach,” Burnham said.

The stu­dents, she said, were col­lec­tively involved in every step of the lit­i­ga­tion and over­came the numerous obsta­cles inherent in pur­suing a case more than 40 years old—and after key wit­nesses had passed away.

Rashida Richardson, a third-​​year law stu­dent who has been with CRRJ for two years, sifted through 1,000 pages of FBI records on the case, and is now writing a detailed case his­tory for the CRRJ web­site.
As an African-​​American, Richardson said the case res­onated with her per­son­ally. She has family in the Car­olinas, and recalls her father telling sto­ries growing up of the harsh treat­ment blacks received in the South.

I just felt like this was a way to get involved to right some of the wrongs, to see how you can use the law to change the hor­rible his­tory that has existed,” she said.

Burnham said the case is the most sig­nif­i­cant CRRJ has researched since its estab­lish­ment in 2007, and also is the first suc­cessful civil case in the nation brought against public offi­cials for aiding and abet­ting mur­ders by the Ku Klux Klan. She hopes it will inject a crit­ical ele­ment of urgency to the CRRJ’s work, given that every case from that era faces a race against time.