Above are the names of people whose lives were lost in racially motivated killings in the American South between 1930 and 1954 documented in The Burnham-Nobles Archive. When you click on a name, you will be redirected to the victim's information page in the Archive.
This is a prototype of an ongoing project, created with data from The Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive, a digital resource dedicated to identifying, classifying, and providing factual information and documentation about anti-Black killings in the mid-century South.
On April 27, 1943, Edwin Clifford Williams, his wife, Lillian, and two young sons, were on their way home from Beautiful Zion Baptist Church. As they passed under the Newton Street Viaduct in Algiers, three white navy sailors, 19-year-old Walter Curry Sherwood, Paul O’Malley, and A.B. Bright were drinking above the viaduct. The sailors, for reasons unknown, proceeded to pour beer over Lillian and their infant son. When Williams protested, the sailors descended from above the viaduct, smashed some beer bottles, and stabbed him with a broken bottle in front of his family.
The day after her husband’s death, Lillian Alveris Williams provided a statement to Daniel Byrd, then president of the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP. Byrd alerted Thurgood Marshall, who closely followed the proceedings. Despite these efforts, the family never received justice in court.
Only one of the assailants was ever tried, and he was acquitted of manslaughter charges after less than an hour of deliberations by a jury. Nearly 80 years later, attention to Williams' murder was revived through a clinic by the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ) at Northeastern University School of Law, which offers opportunities for students to work in the domains of historical redress and criminal justice reform.
Students in the clinic investigate cases available in the Burnham-Nobles archive, a collection of racial killings of Black people between 1930 and 1954 in the Jim Crow South. Erin McCrady, a law student, investigated the Williams case between 2020 and 2021.
Williams’ story was one in more than a thousand stories of unjust killings of Black lives in the Jim Crow South documented in the Burnham-Nobles archive, which was made available publicly in October, 2022. The Archive brings together evidence demonstrating the extensive scale and scope of killings between 1930 and 1954 in the Jim Crow South.
Circumstances and allegations against the victims that eventually led to their killings were wide-ranging.
They included, but were not limited to, murdering a police officer, committing burglary, attempting to rape a white woman, writing to a white woman, having romantic relations with a white woman, making untrue statements about a white woman, bumping into a white woman, winning too much at gambling, quitting a job, failing to show up to work, driving erraticly, arguing over wages, raising fist in a sign of aggression, peeping into a neighbor's window, refusing to say "yes, sir" and "no, sir" to a police officer, refusing to obey a white man's order to tuck in his shirt, engaging in union organizing, trying to mediate an argument over bus fares between a bus driver and a 17-year-old boy, protesting son’s arrest, being near a traffic accident, crossing a municipal golf course, loitering, sitting on a bench, or, in William’s case, defending his family from assault.
Since 2009, these incidents have been investigated by law students, graduate and undergraduate students in journalism and public history at CRRJ clinics. About four hundred students have worked on the project, poring through newspapers, police records, archival collections, federal reports and genealogical databases for details on these cold cases. They have preserved and logged 20,000 pieces of evidence for 1,000 cases of racial killings in 11 former Confederate states from 1930 to 1954.
CRRJ defines racial killings as killings "where racial animus or perceived infraction of Jim Crow norms and customs can be documented or reasonably inferred from newspaper reports and supporting documents."
Let's explore the archive.
Each dot on this map represents a victim who was killed in a racially motivated homicide documented in the Burnham-Nobles Archive. Please note that the dots are randomly distributed within the state the incident occurred. This is due to a lack of specific geographical coordinates of where each incident happened.
41% of the victims documented in the archive were killed by civilians.
59% of the victims were killed by law enforcement officers.
The Burnham-Nobles Archive based its decision to include cases involving police officers, sheriffs, and/or “posses” on four related grounds.
Firstly, many deaths were “custodial” deaths in that the incident took place while the victim was in the custody of a law enforcement officer. The documents collected suggest that many law enforcement officers were either themselves perpetrators of violence or failed to protect victims from violence enacted by private individuals.
Secondly, law enforcement officers often justified their homicidal acts as “self-defense.” More often than not, the cumulative effect of the documentary evidence contests and complicates, those claims.
Thirdly, county sheriffs often deputized civilian groups as “posses,” thereby allowing vigilante groups to operate under color of law.
And finally, law enforcement played a well-understood role in upholding “race” and “tradition” in the segregated South.
You can use the year dropdown on the map to filter out cases happening in any year between 1930 and 1954
When you double click on any dot, you will be redirected to the victim's information page in the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive, which provides access to primary source documents of the case for your exploration.
As you scroll down below, you'll see a Case summary section, click on any dot on the map to read the case summary for that victim.
Click on any dot on the map to see the case summary for the corresponding victim
CRRJ Archive Data Set. CRRJ Archive. URL. Accessed November 10, 2022. Version 1.0.1.