Professor Burnham joined the Northeastern University School of Law faculty in 2002. Her fields of expertise are civil and human rights, comparative constitutional rights, and international criminal law. She is the founder of the School of Law’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ), which conducts research and supports policy initiatives on anti-civil rights violence in the United States and other miscarriages of justice during the period 1930-1970. CRRJ serves as a resource for scholars, policymakers and organizers involved in various initiatives seeking justice for these crimes. In 2010, Professor Burnham headed a team of outside counsel and law students in a landmark case that settled a federal lawsuit: Professor Burnham’s team accused Franklin County Mississippi law enforcement officials of assisting Klansmen in the kidnapping, torture and murder of two 19-year-olds, Henry Dee and Charles Eddie Moore. The case and settlement were widely covered in the national press.

In 2016, Professor Burnham was selected for the competitive and prestigious Carnegie Fellows Program. Provided to just 33 recipients nationwide, the fellowship provides the “country’s most creative thinkers with grants of up to $200,000 each to support research on challenges to democracy and international order.” Professor Burnham is using the funding to deepen and extend CRRJ’s work and research dedicated to seeking justice for crimes of the civil rights era.

Professor Burnham began her career at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. In the 1970s, she represented civil rights and political activists. In 1977, she became the first African American woman to serve in the Massachusetts judiciary, when she joined the Boston Municipal Court bench as an associate justice. In 1982, she became partner in a Boston civil rights firm with an international human rights practice. In 1993, South African president Nelson Mandela appointed Professor Burnham to serve on an international human rights commission to investigate alleged human rights violations within the African National Congress. The commission was a precursor to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

A former fellow of the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College and Harvard University's W.E.B. DuBois Institute for Afro-American Studies, Professor Burnham has written extensively on contemporary legal and political issues.

Fields of Expertise

  • Careers in the Law
  • Civil Rights
  • Constitutional Law
  • International Criminal Law
  • International Law

Selected Works

Selected Articles

  • “The Most Important Moment For Civil Rights This Century Is Upon Us,” WBUR's Cognoscenti (July 11, 2016).
  • "The Long Civil Rights Act and Criminal Justice," 95 Boston University Law Review 687 (2015)
  • "Soldiers and Buses: All Aboard," 5 Race and Justice 2 (April 2015)
  • Recasting Anti-Civil Rights Violence,Northeastern University School of Law Research Paper No. 42-2009 (2009).
  • “The Missing Civil Rights Murders: Justice Delayed in Mississippi,” Jurist Legal News and Research (June 2007).
  • “Indigenous Constitutionalism and the Death Penalty: The Case of the Commonwealth Caribbean,” 3 International Journal of Constitutional Law 582 (2005).
  • “Unbowed and Unbanned: The South African Freedom Charter at Fifty,” Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Comparative Studies 18 (April 2005).
  • “Cultivating a Seedling Charter: South Africa's Court Grows Its Constitution,” 3 Michigan Journal of Race & Law 29 (1997).
  • “Property, Parenthood and Peonage: Reflections on the Return to Status Quo Antebellum,” 18 Cardozo Law Review 433 (1996).
  • “An Impossible Marriage: Slave Law and Family Law,” 5 University of Minnesota Journal of Law & Inequality 187 (1987). 

Selected Chapters

  • “Retrospective Justice in the Age of Innocence: The Hard Case of Rape Executions,” in Wrongful Convictions and the DNA Revolution: Twenty-Years of Freeing the Innocent, ed. D. Medwed (Cambridge University Press, 2017).
  • Scottsboro Boys,” in Encyclopedia of Race & Racism, 2nd Edition, ed. P. Mason (Macmillan Reference USA, 2011).
  • “The Death Penalty in East Africa: Law, Politics and Transnational Advocacy,” in Human Rights NGOs in East Africa: Defining the Challenges, ed. M. Mutua (2007).
  • “Legal Aid, Legal Services and Public Defender Organizations,” in Legal Chowder: Lawyering and Judging in Massachusetts, ed. R. Kass (2002).

Online Commentary