By Hands Now Known: Book summary and reviews of By Hands Now Known by Margaret A. Burnham

By Hands Now Known

Jim Crow's Legal Executioners

by Margaret A. Burnham

By Hands Now Known by Margaret A. Burnham X
By Hands Now Known by Margaret A. Burnham
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Book Summary

A paradigm-shifting investigation of Jim Crow–era violence, the legal apparatus that sustained it, and its enduring legacy, from a renowned legal scholar.

If the law cannot protect a person from a lynching, then isn't lynching the law?

In By Hands Now Known, Margaret A. Burnham, director of Northeastern University's Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, challenges our understanding of the Jim Crow era by exploring the relationship between formal law and background legal norms in a series of harrowing cases from 1920 to 1960. From rendition, the legal process by which states make claims to other states for the return of their citizens, to battles over state and federal jurisdiction and the outsize role of local sheriffs in enforcing racial hierarchy, Burnham maps the criminal legal system in the mid-twentieth-century South, and traces the unremitting line from slavery to the legal structures of this period--and through to today.

Drawing on an extensive database, collected over more than a decade and exceeding 1,000 cases of racial violence, she reveals the true legal system of Jim Crow, and captures the memories of those whose stories have not yet been heard.

25 black-and-white illustrations

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Burnham, founding director of the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project at Northeastern University, debuts with a searing study of the 'chronic, unpredictable violence that loomed over everyday Black life' in the Jim Crow South...[A]n essential reckoning with America's history of racial violence." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"An indispensable addition to the literature of social justice and civil rights." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"[E]loquent...Readers interested in the long history of the civil rights struggle should definitely read this." - Library Journal (starred review)

"Defying national suppression and indifference, By Hands Now Known vividly conveys the stories of those whose lives were destroyed by previously undocumented racial violence between 1920 and 1960…Margaret A. Burnham, drawing on a painstakingly constructed database, launches a vital and restorative reckoning with the reprehensible devastation of lives, communities, justice, and memory." - Martha Minow, 300th Anniversary University Professor, Harvard University, and author of When Should Law Forgive?

"A vitally important history…Burnham's meticulous unpacking―of newspaper accounts, coroners' reports, and interviews with surviving witnesses, family members, and clergy―is searing, unforgettable, and profoundly moving." - Patricia J. Williams, author of The Alchemy of Race and Rights and Giving a Damn

"If you truly want to understand why police and vigilantes who kill Black people are rarely held to account, you must read this extraordinary book…By far the most sobering and most illuminating work I have ever read on the long history of state-sanctioned racial violence in the US." - Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Race Rebels

This information about By Hands Now Known was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Margaret A. Burnham

Margaret A. Burnham is the founding director of the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project at Northeastern University, and has been a staffer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a civil rights lawyer, a defense attorney, and a judge. A professor of law, she was nominated by President Biden and confirmed by the US Senate to serve on the Civil Rights Cold Case Records Review Board. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

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