Restoring Justice and Setting the Record Straight


More than 80 years following his death, thanks to the work of a team of Morgan Lewis lawyers, Private Albert King, United States Army, was finally awarded the recognition and military honors that he had earned through his military service and his death. At an emotional grave-side ceremony in Columbus, Georgia on Sunday, March 24, 2024, the 83rd anniversary of the date that Private King was shot and killed by a white military police officer at Fort Benning, Georgia (now Fort Moore), Private King received full military honors that included an honor guard detachment of uniformed soldiers, the presentation of a flag to Helen Russell, Private King's closest living relative, US Congressman Sanford Bishop, Jr. of Georgia, top military and civilian leaders from Fort Moore and representatives from Morgan Lewis and Northeastern University School of Law’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ).

Soldier with flag

On the 83rd anniversary of his death, Private Albert King was memorialized graveside with full military honors.

In December 2022, the firm secured a favorable ruling from the Army Board for Correction of Military Records (ABCMR) regarding the “line of duty” determination in the 1941 death of Private 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, 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 CRRJ and Ms. 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.

preparing the honorary flag

Members of the 316th Cavalry Brigade prepare the honorary flag.

Following outreach to the office of Congressman Shri Thanedar, who represents Ms. Russell’s Congressional district, the team was further able to secure a headstone for Private King’s gravesite, an honor denied for these last 83 years. Although Private King’s grave was off-base and in a location that soldiers of his era generally would not have been buried, Ms. Russell determined that Private King’s resting place where other family members are buried—a historic African-American cemetery in Columbus Georgia, near Fort Moore—should not be disturbed. The Fort Moore Garrison Command, Fort Moore Directorate of Public Works, Casualty Assistance Center, historians from the Riverdale-Porterdale Cemetery Foundation, the 316th Cavalry Brigade Honor Guard, and Congressman Sanford Bishop, Jr. were all instrumental in delivering a moving memorial ceremony, recognizing the honorable service of Private King, and his death in the line of duty.

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.

Helen Russell and family

Presentation of the flag to Helen Russell and family with US Congressman Sanford Bishop, Jr.

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.

For its efforts, the firm was recognized by Bloomberg Law as a 2023 Pro Bono Innovator.

Read more about Private King’s story in The New York Times (here and here), The Washington Post, and Reuters.