On June 4, 1954, a well-​​known African Amer­ican landowner, Isadore Banks, dis­ap­peared from Crit­tenden County in Arkansas. A few days later, his muti­lated and burned body was found in a small wooded area on his prop­erty. The iden­tity of his mur­derer was never uncovered.

A few years ago, the Banks case returned to the public eye after one of Banks’s rel­a­tives asked the U.S. Army to rec­og­nize his ser­vice in World War I. That’s when North­eastern Uni­ver­sity law pro­fessor Mar­garet Burnham and stu­dents in the School of Law’s Civil Rights and Restora­tive Jus­tice (CRRJ) Project began inves­ti­gating the case, with the aim of finally resolving this crime.

Burnham directs the CRRJ Project, which con­ducts research and sup­ports policy ini­tia­tives related to mis­car­riages of jus­tice in U.S. civil rights cases from the 1950s to the early 1970s, par­tic­u­larly in the South. The issue behind racial vio­lence during this time, CRRJ researchers have found, is often land.

We have taken a par­tic­ular interest in alle­ga­tions of land loss, because it fits into a pat­tern across the South,” Burnham said. “Often­times, African Amer­i­cans were deprived of their land-​​holdings by vio­lent means. There is now impor­tant his­tor­ical work being done to show what the con­se­quences of this were for African Amer­ican com­mu­ni­ties in the South.”

In the case of the Banks murder, Burnham said, local author­i­ties at the time didn’t aggres­sively inves­ti­gate the crime, and Banks family mem­bers were forced to leave the com­mu­nity because no records of the dead man’s land-​​holdings could be found.

This case clearly illus­trates the con­nec­tion between racial vio­lence and land loss, which have pre­vi­ously been exam­ined as having sep­a­rate sig­nif­i­cance,” Burnham said. “We’re inter­ested in this case because it shows the sig­nif­i­cant link between these two ele­ments of racial repres­sion during this period of time.”

CRRJ is rep­re­senting the Banks family in the case. North­eastern law stu­dents have con­ducted inter­views in Arkansas and other states with people who were alive at time of the murder. CRRJ researchers have already found numerous mort­gages and deeds proving that Banks, at one point, owned at least 500 acres of land. Burnham said they hope to uncover doc­u­ments that reveal the extent of his land-​​holdings at the time of his death.

CNN has recently reported on the case.

Banks dis­ap­peared shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court declared public-​​school seg­re­ga­tion uncon­sti­tu­tional in its his­toric Brown v. Board of Edu­ca­tion deci­sion on May 17, 1954. According to Burnham, his­tor­ical evi­dence shows racial vio­lence spiked fol­lowing the ruling.

Last year, CRRJ’s efforts led to a land­mark set­tle­ment in a 46-​​year-​​old civil rights murder case involving the Ku Klux Klan in Franklin County, Miss.