From the end of Reconstruction following the Civil War through the Civil Rights movement into the 1960s, thousands of African Americans were killed by mobs, sometimes kidnapped from jails, sometimes hung from trees, sometimes mutilated, sometimes all of the above. Now a project called the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project out of Northeastern University's law school is working to archive as much information on the more than 4,075 people recently named by the Equal Justice Initiative to have been killed during that era, with a particular focus on 1930 to 1970, reports the Marshall Project. "Restoring these stories to history is a piece of restorative justice," says program associate director Rose Zoltek-Jick. "The work of the archive is to ... lift them up out of the silence."
The project has been running since 2007; so far students have managed to track down one name that wasn't even on the list, whose death had never officially been tied to the murder of two others. And one of their first cases found that a county sheriff in Mississippi knew about Klansmen's plans to kidnap, torture, and murder two black teens in 1964 but did nothing to stop them and did not investigate after the murders. The county agreed to an undisclosed settlement with the victims' families, and the attorney's portion helped get the project off its feet. "We’re not looking for a legal solution, but we are trying to understand something about how law operates—what the absence of law creates, what impunity looks like," Zoltek-Jick says. (See why some say Emmett Till has been killed again and again.)