Dear Friends of CRRJ, 


Thank you for your continued support for the work of the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project at Northeastern University School of Law. 

This month, we are launching a periodic newsletter that will bring you civil rights cases direct from the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive, highlights of our restorative justice work, and news and events from CRRJ. 


Launched in 2007 by University Distinguished Professor Margaret Burnham, the center of CRRJ’s work is the investigation of racially motivated homicides in the Jim Crow South, and the creation of the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive, which contains more than 1,000 cases. In 2022, CRRJ became a program of the Law School's newly launched Center for Law, Equity and Race. 

In this newsletter, CRRJ features the story of Reverend Captain Leonard Butler, drawing on the investigation by former CRRJ student Noah Lapidus and primary archive materials. 


Thank you for your commitment to our work.

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Featured Case

Reverend Captain Leonard Butler:

Union Man Killed in Alabama, 1948


Company owned and operated store at the mine, July 1946

Tennessee Coal, Iron & R.R. Company, Edgewater Mine, Birmingham, Jefferson County, Alabama. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

June 5, 1948 should have been another day of work in the coal mine for Reverend Captain Leonard Butler, a father of 13 children, a retired Baptist Minister and union organizer.

But it was the day that two deputized employees of the Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad (TCI) shot Butler four times, killing the union organizer.

Butler, who was 53, was accused of harassing a young white girl in Edgewater, the mining town he lived near. The deputies claimed they killed Butler because he pulled a gun on them.

However, others were convinced that what got Butler killed was his activism in support of union activities at the Edgewater Mine, which was owned and operated by Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad.

The Edgewater Local of the United Mine Workers was established in 1934, and Butler rose to the ranks of local vice president, the highest position a Black person could hold.

“He organized for the union, and that is why the company killed him,” Vida Butler Rouse, Butler’s daughter, said in an interview with CRRJ. “Really, they didn’t want any organizing for the union.”

Read Butler's full story here

Updates at CRRJ and In the Field

Historical posthumous pardon hearing held in case of Joe James

In April 2023, the Illinois Prisoner Review Board reviewed a petition for posthumous clemency filed by attorneys with the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ) and Northwestern School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions (CWC) on behalf of Joe James.

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NCCU scholarship fund honors case originally investigated by CRRJ

In 2014, CRRJ student Shaneka Davis brought wide public attention to the case of Booker T. Spicely, a soldier killed by a bus driver in Durham, North Carolina.

North Carolina Central University Law School was recently awarded a $100,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation to create the Private Booker T. Spicely Endowed Scholarship Fund, underlining the importance of the research CRRJ conducted nine years ago. On May 23, a highway historical marker honoring Booker Spicely was approved in North Carolina, marking the first time the term "Jim Crow" will appear on an official state marker.

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Margaret Burnham wins 2023 Hillman Prize for Book Journalism

Margaret Burnham won the 2023 Hillman Prize for Book Journalism for By Hands Now Known: Jim Crow’s Legal Executioners. Awarded by the Sidney Hillman Foundation, the Hillman Prize recognizes achievement in investigative journalism that serves the public interest.

The book has also won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the history category and the Nautilus Book Award gold medal for journalism and investigative reporting. It was a finalist for the 2022 Kirkus Prize in nonfiction, was named a Best Book of the Year by The New Yorker, Oprah Daily, Kirkus, Chicago Public Library, and Publishers Weekly, and long listed in the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in nonfiction.

Watch Margaret Burnham's 2023 Hillman Prize Acceptance Speech

SULC Burnham Honors Cohort present their case investigations

On May 9, the Burnham Honors Cohort presented their case investigations at Northeastern University School of Law. The cases were from Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi. 

Led by Ada Goodly Lampkin at the Southern University Law Center (SULC) and Lauren Hawkes at CRRJ, the cohort was comprised of six students from HBCUs in the South, including Whitley Parker and Victoria Ardoin, SULC in Louisiana; LaChassity Jackson and Blaise Adams, Tougaloo College in Mississippi; and Dasia Turner and Amari Brantley, Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas. 

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Above: Katie Sandson, program director of CRRJ’s Racial Redress and Reparations Lab. Photo by Matthew Modoono, Northeastern Global News

CRRJ and the Reparations Agenda

Katie Sandson, program director of CRRJ’s Racial Redress and Reparations Lab, and Malcolm Clarke, CRRJ’s Elizabeth Zitrin Justice Fellow, participated in a virtual panel discussion, organized by The Black Reparations Project at Mills College at Northeastern University, Feb. 23 and 24.

On March 15, CRRJ hosted the panel discussion, Building the Record for Reparations. Panelists included Jennifer Llewellyn, Professor of Law and Director of the Restorative Lab at Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, Canada; Keith Stokes, Vice President of the 1696 Heritage Group in Providence, RI; and Don Tamaki, senior counsel at Minami Tamaki LLP and one of nine members of the California Reparations Task Force. 

Featured Cases from the archive now live

We have launched our new Featured Cases series on social media and our website. We will have regular highlights of different cases from the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive.

Follow us on social media and visit our website to see the latest case.

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CRRJ Spotlight

Gina Nortonsmith, Project Archivist

It took Gina Nortonsmith a long time to realize that she was meant to be an archivist. Before joining CRRJ, Nortonsmith spent twelve years working with students in special education. For many years prior to that, as an attorney she defended tenants against landlords and taught at a law school.


In this interview, Nortonsmith talks about the release of the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive, and CRRJ’s victim-first principle.   

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Massachusetts Congregation aids in CRRJ's cold case investigations

The killing of George Floyd in 2020 led Jim Ianiri, Carl Isihara, Jack Spurr and Andrea Vizoso, members of the United Church of Christ (UCC) Norwell, to seek opportunities for greater involvement in racial justice work. 

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CRRJ is Hiring!

Project Archivist

CRRJ seeks a skilled, innovative, and collaborative Project Archivist for the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive. This is a two-year full-time grant-funded position. The Project Archivist will act as a project lead for the Archive, managing its extensive digital and physical collection and overseeing its completion. Other responsibilities include serving on teams in the Law School team and the Library, determining preservation and conservation best practices, and promoting the discovery, use, and growth of the collection.

Learn More

Community Leadership Fellow

CRRJ seeks a community activist/organizer/member to build a project based on the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive; design, manage, and execute CRRJ’s community-based programs; promote strong collaborative relations with CRRJ’s non-academic partner organizations; and engage in other activities to support its restorative justice work. This is a full-time, in residence position.

Learn More

Support CRRJ

We rely on donors like you to continue our work. Donations are used for litigation expenses, field research and restorative justice projects. With your help, we can continue training tomorrow’s civil rights lawyers, filling in the gaps in U.S. history and informing our national dialogue on racial redress and criminal justice.