Spotlight on: Ada Goodly Lampkin, director of the Louis A. Berry Institute for Civil Rights and Justice at Southern University Law Center
Ada Goodly Lampkin understands the value of truth and the power of imagination.
“There was a lot unsaid in my family,” said Goodly Lampkin, director of the Louis A. Berry Institute for Civil Rights and Justice at Southern University Law Center.
Born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, “in my deeply Creole family it was bad to tell a secret, bad to use the truth,” she told CRRJ in a recent interview.
It was her grandmother who taught Goodly Lampkin, a partner with the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project for almost a decade, how the truth can heal.
“My grandmother, herself the product of racial violence and raised to believe her mother was her sister … was a person that was deeply impacted by racism. But, because she presented as a white woman, she took an extra step to make sure that whatever privilege she had she used to benefit people who weren’t as privileged,” said Goodly Lampkin. “I saw that from a very early age growing up. That drove me to be a person that looked out for ways to assert my privilege as a light-skinned Black person. I understood whatever privilege I possessed also came with great responsibility.”
After high school, Goodly Lampkin joined the military at 17. “My plan was always to go to law school,” she said. “I was going to use the military as a means of getting there, to go through the JAG (U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps) route, work my way up to practicing international law.”
It was during her time at Louisiana State University that Goodly Lampkin said her consciousness of Black communities’ struggles and needs fully matured. She became the president of LSU’s Black student union. This is when she said she realized “I could be a voice for my community.”
But in 2008, Goodly Lampkin gave birth to her son. “The world changed. It was the year Barak Obama was elected and I had an obligation to provide.” She began work full time as a civilian for the Department of Army in upstate New York, at Fort Drum.
A year later, Goodly Lampkin returned to Louisiana. “The first thing I did was apply to law school because I didn’t want to be that person with the dream defered,” she said. She was accepted to SULC and completed the four-year program, attending night school, while raising her son as a single parent and continuing her 9-to-5 as a civilian production controller for the Department of Army.
“When CRRJ came around,” she said, “I had not taken
advantage of any academic opportunities because I couldn’t. My summers were spent working with the military, I had my 9-to-5 … I really didn’t have the bandwidth to take on any more work outside of my classes. But when I saw the email from then-Vice Chancellor John Pierre I said this was the only opportunity I would try to make room for in my life.”
The partnership between CRRJ and SULC was only in its infancy in 2014. Since then, it has become a fully-fledged collaboration, one in which case information is freely shared, families are connected with resources that will, hopefully, lead them to justice, and students are trained under CRRJ’s framework and pioneering pedagogy.
Goodly Lampkin also sits on the advisory board for Historical Injustice and Present Policing (HIPP), a trauma informed training partnership with CRRJ.
“After the first summer,” she said, “it became apparent that CRRJ’s work absolutely had to live within the law center at SULC.”
That summer, Goodly Lampkin and fellow clinic students were each given five cases to explore.
One of her first cases, the lynching of George Hughes, a 41-year-old farm laborer, has stayed with her.
Hughes was killed in Sherman Texas in 1930. Lynched for asking his white employers for the pay he was owed, and accused of raping a white woman, Hughes was in court for his trial when a mob burned down the courthouse and lynched his dead body. According to newspaper accounts, the size of the mob swelled into the thousands as they ransacked Sherman’s Black business district, raising it to the ground.
Goodly Lampkin found correspondence with the NAACP’s Thurgood Marshall and Walter White in the case files she uncovered, that are now housed in the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive. “I got to really see the historical players that I’d looked up to get involved … It really drew me in.”
Read more about Hughes’ death on the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive
About the Archive
The Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive houses case files and documents for more than 1,000 cases of racial homicides in the Jim Crow South. Co-founded by Melissa Nobles, professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Margaret Burnham, CRRJ director and professor of law at Northeastern, these uncovered stories highlight how violence affected lives, defined legal rights and shaped politics between 1930 and 1954.
She said working on this case taught her the healing impact that such investigations can have on a community. Family members, who until recently had been estranged from each other, have now reunited and are able to claim their heritage, she said, whereas before, they might have feared retribution.
The Hughes case is now part of the curriculum at a local college in Sherman, and community organizers are trying to get a historical marker for Hughes, Goodly Lampkin told CRRJ.
She said that her time investigating CRRJ’s cases taught her not only to appreciate the historical context, but to “look at what’s happening today through the lens of racial equity, of historical justice, and see where we’re missing the mark.”
I think there’s a direct link to investigating these cases and the historical context, and then living in contemporary times and seeing just how far we have not come,” she said.
After graduating LSU, Goodly Lampkin became a movement lawyer. “The strength I brought from CRRJ to the work I did after law school was in how I advocated for the community. I know, because of [CRRJ Director] Professor Burnham and her teachings, that restorative justice is guided by the harmed parties, the people who hold those memories, that trauma.”
Now, Goodly Lampkin is working with CRRJ’s pedagogy to expand the offering at SULC. She is focused on working with undergraduate students in the clinic, encouraging peer-to-peer discourse, and “building academic pipelines around this work, to make sure that the fire that’s in the belly of a lot of our young people can be satiated by good work and providing the education for that.”
Goodly Lampkin and the team at the Louis A. Berry Institute run two projects, one in the spring and the second in the summer. The Burnham Honors Cohort, which began in the spring of 2023, is a project partnership between the institute, CRRJ, Philander Smith College and Tougaloo College. This year’s cohort comprised wasof six students: Whitley Parker and Victoria Ardoin from SULC; LaChassity Jackson and Blaise Adams from Tougaloo College; and Dasia Turner and Amari Brantley from Philander Smith College.
Hosea “Shant” Carter On May 2, 1948, Hosea “Shant” Carter was lynched in Marion County, Mississippi. Nearly 75 years later, his son honored his legacy. With the support of CRRJ, he held a…
“What I want is for there to be a culture that we help to start, where harm can be faced and addressed in earnest by family, community and systems, in partnership,” said Goodly Lampkin.
She believes that this work — building a culture that redresses historical racial violence and finds pathways for restorative justice — is “at a critical juncture and the pendulum is swinging back the other way.”
Goodly Lampkin is alarmed by the recent censoring of educational materials and legislators’ efforts to remove critical history from school curriculum, college discourse and public accessibility.
“If we lose the ability to champion our history, to reckon with our history, then we lose the ability to do this work,” she said. “We must make sure this work has a permanent place not just within academia but also within our systems.”
“My hope, my work, is that we’re building a foundation for our students to grow this work, because it’s not us that will complete it, it’s them,” she said.
“We can’t lack imagination.”
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