Remembrance and Repair Conference in Birmingham, Alabama

On March 10 and 11, 2020, the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project hosted the convening “Remembrance and Repair: Police Violence in the Jim Crow Era” at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

In 2017, CRRJ convened a gathering on historical racial violence, lynching, and other forms of domestic terror at the BCRI. Since then, CRRJ has identified nearly 130 cases in which African Americans were killed by police officers in Jefferson County during the Jim Crow era.

This second convening brought together family members of those killed by police officers in Jefferson County from 1930-1970 to discuss the continuing effects of this history and to honor their loved ones. The families were joined by public officials, community members, and experts in restorative justice, historical injustice, and criminal justice.

The convening commenced with welcome remarks from Andrea Taylor, CEO and President of the BCRI, and Brandon Johnson, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Peace and Policy.

Following the welcome remarks, Noah Lapidus, CRRJ Genealogist and Birmingham native, and Jasmyn Story, Deputy Director of the Office of Peace and Policy, facilitated a discussion with the family members. Atmas Shaw, a forty-two-year-old father of three, was killed by police on April 17, 1948.  His granddaughter, Bonnie O’Neal and his son, Roosevelt Shaw, presented testimony. Eugene Burt was shot to death on February 8, 1950 at his home.  The officer, J.A. Hale, had been involved in four other shooting deaths. Burt’s great-nephew, Dexter Tolbert, addressed the audience. O’Dee Henderson, a twenty-five-year-old employee of Tennessee Coal and Iron, was beaten and shot to death while in custody in Fairfield on May 9, 1940.  Henderson’s niece, Casolene Gates Powe, participated in the convening.

Case summaries included in conference program

Dexter Tolbert, Bonnie O’Neal, and Noah Lapidus (NUSL’20)

Vassar College students Amelia Cabrera, Jonah Frere-Holmes, and Alexandria Ortiz worked with CRRJ to investigate 14 cases of police killings under the supervision of their professor, Diane Harriford. The students presented their findings at the conference, focusing on cases in which the same officers were implicated in multiple killings. Prosecutions were rare. The evidence suggests that many of these repeat police killers were promoted, received commendations, and had long careers in law enforcement.

Left to Right: Vassar College students Jonah Frere-Holmes, Alexandria Ortiz and Amelia Cabrera
Conference participants listening to the presentation

Diane Harriford, Professor of Sociology at Vassar College, moderated a panel on Restorative Justice with Jasmyn Story and Fania Davis.

Nan Woodruff, Professor of African American Studies and Modern U.S. History at Penn State University, led a panel on Policing and Historical Injustice with Northeastern professors Shytierra Gaston and Jack McDevitt and Katie Sandson, CRRJ Legal Fellow. Professor Gaston described her research with families of lynching victims and Professor McDevitt and Attorney Sandson discussed their work on CRRJ’s Historical Injustices and Present Policing Project.

Professor Jack McDevitt and Katie Sandson, Esq.
Captain Janice Blackwell and Officer Herman Cleveland, 
Birmingham Police Department

The convening concluded with an opportunity for participants to share ideas with the City’s representatives, including police leaders, on reparative measures for those affected by police killings in the Jim Crow-era.

Photo Credit: BCRI