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New Website Solves a Legal Mystery

BC Law team makes stunning discoveries while restoring a historic lawyer to his rightful place.


Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Harriet Bell Hayden are prominent figures of the anti-slavery and the early civil rights movement. So how is it that lawyer Robert Morris, their contemporary and a Black man of equal stature in the fight for justice during that time, is less well known to many?

That was a question that a team of Boston College Law School researchers and digital communicators set out in 2016 to answer. In so doing, they made eye-opening discoveries not only about Morris’s brilliant legal contributions, but also about his significant connection to Boston College. Indeed, he was such an important personage in Boston—he was the country’s second African-American lawyer (1847) and the first Black lawyer to argue a case in a jury trial (1848)—that he became known as “The Irish Lawyer.”

The result achieved by the BC Law team—BC Law Legal Information Librarian Laurel Davis, Professor Mary Sarah Bilder, Digital Initiatives & Scholarly Communication Librarian Nick Szydlowski (now at San Jose State University), and Digital Initiatives & Scholarly Communication Specialist Abraham (Avi) Bauer—is the beautifully conceived and educationally focused website “Robert Morris: Civil Rights Lawyer and Antislavery Activist.” The digital epic made its debut on November 12, the 170th anniversary of Morris’s acquittal on charges of violating the Fugitive Slave Law.

And what does a YMCA card have to do with unearthing this secret tucked away for nearly 200 years? Follow the clues in the website to find out.