Law professor Margaret Burnham named Carnegie Fellow

Northeastern University School of Law – Faculty and Students in Classrooms – Professor Margaret Burnham

Northeastern University law professor Margaret Burnham has been named to the 2016 class of Andrew Carnegie Fellows, a prestigious honor recognizing scholars for their significant work in the social sciences and humanities.

The Carnegie Corporation of New York on Tuesday announced the newest cohort of 33 scholars from colleges and universities across the country. The honorees were selected from a pool of some 200 nominees, and each will receive up to $200,000 to fund one to two years of scholarly research and writing aimed at addressing some of the world’s most urgent challenges to U.S. democracy and international order.

Burnham founded the School of Law’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice project, which investigates cold cases involving anti-civil rights violence in the United States—particularly the South—and other miscarriages of justice between 1930 and 1970. Many Northeastern students have been deeply involved in the project’s work, which includes examining more than 400 cold cases from that era.

As part of the project, Burnham is now leading an effort to create an archive of historical records, legal documents, video and audio recordings, photos, and other materials. She said the fellowship will support the development of the archive, which she noted will become “the most important repository of documents about these cases in the country.”

The archive is intended to preserve the history of these cases, advance the project’s mission to inform national conversations about legacies of violence in the U.S., and provide scholars with “qualitatively rich and quantitatively definitive material” to stimulate further research on racial violence, Burnham said.

“The Carnegie Fellowship is a tribute to the work of scores of Northeastern students and the families whose quest for justice they have pursued,” Burnham said. “For almost a decade now, CRRJ has documented the massive harms perpetrated by our country’s criminal justice system and promoted truth-telling and accountability. As we continue to uncover the daunting legacy of racial trauma, we now have confidence that our findings and recommendations will reach a wide audience.

“I am deeply grateful to the School of Law for its longstanding and continuing support, and to the Carnegie Corporation of New York for this significant contribution to our work and mission.”

The Carnegie Fellowship is a tribute to the work of scores of Northeastern students and the families whose quest for justice they have pursued.
— Margaret Burnham

Burnham will spend the first year of the fellowship collecting more data for CRRJ by interviewing people nationwide who have knowledge of these events. The second year will focus on a range of efforts that include collaborating with digital media scholars at Northeastern to develop the archive and build a website, crafting interactive documentaries and other digital media from these cases, and leading initiatives that lay the groundwork for future research by other scholars.

Burnham, who joined the School of Law faculty in 2002, is an expert on civil and human rights, comparative constitutional rights, and international criminal law. She 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 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.

The Museum of African American History, Boston and Nantucket, honored Burnham in 2014 with its Living Legend award, recognizing her work as a civil rights lawyer, educator, and activist.