Restoring Justice and Setting the Record Straight

January 20, 2023

More than 80 years in the making, a team of Morgan Lewis lawyers secured a favorable ruling from the Army Board for Corrections of Military Records (ABCMR) regarding the “line of duty” determination in the 1941 death of Private Albert King. Private King, a 20-year-old Black soldier with the Quartermaster Corps, was shot five times—including once in the back—by a white military policeman on base at Fort Benning, Georgia, following a verbal dispute with the white driver of a segregated bus.

A major issue in the case was the existence of two conflicting line of duty determinations. The first determination was made after a thorough, monthlong investigation by an Army board of inquiry that initially ruled that Private King had died in the line of duty. However, after the base commanding general ordered the board to reconsider its ruling taking as true facts that were not established by the record, the board reversed its decision and concluded Private King had died not in the line of duty. This reversal not only resulted in the withholding of benefits to Private King’s next of kin, but also deprived his family of a legacy they should have been proud of—leaving them with the Army’s wrongful conclusion that the private’s death was the result of his misconduct.

Our team, composed of US military veterans, working in collaboration with Northeastern University School of Law’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ) and Private King’s closest living relative, Helen Russell, filed a petition requesting the ABCMR reinstate the original “in the line of duty” determination. At the request of the ABCMR, our lawyers met with genealogists and reviewed historical records in order to provide supplemental documentation proving Ms. Russell’s relationship to Private King. After nearly 18 months, the team received word from the ABCMR that the petition was successful and the correct line of duty determination was reinstated.

CRRJ conducts research and supports policy initiatives on anti-civil-rights violence in the United States and other miscarriages of justice from the period 1930–1970. Through clinical courses taught at the law school, research, civil rights advocacy, legal services, and community engagement, affiliated scholars and students examine the relationship between race-based miscarriages of justice in US history and current pressing racial and criminal justice issues.

In October 2022, CRRJ launched the Burnham-Nobles Archive, a digital resource resulting from more than 20 years of research and investigation that is dedicated to identifying, classifying, and providing factual information and documentation about anti-Black killings in the midcentury South. Morgan Lewis partnered with CRRJ on this endeavor in 2020 and 2021 and contributed to the archive by investigating and documenting more than 100 racially motivated killings that took place in Texas and Florida between 1930 and 1970. We continue work on a selection of cases where restorative justice measures may be feasible.

Read more about Private King’s story in The New York Times and The Washington Post.