Rubin Carter Papers Open for Research at Tufts University

Rubin "Hurricane" Carter with John Artis and Denzel Washington

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (December 1, 2015) -- The personal papers of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a professional boxer and legal rights advocate who spent nearly 20 years in prison for murder convictions that were later overturned, are now part of the Digital Collections and Archives at Tufts University. The papers are open and available for research to students, faculty and other researchers.

Carter, a middleweight boxer, spent 19 years in prison for a triple murder in Paterson, N.J., before a federal judge ruled in 1985 that he and John Artis, who was with Carter on the night of the shootings, did not receive fair trials and ordered them released. In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge H. Lee Sarokin cited "grave constitutional violations." He wrote that Carter's prosecution was "predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure."  Before his release, Carter's case attracted international attention, and Carter was the subject of Bob Dylan’s song "Hurricane."

The Rubin "Hurricane" Carter papers consist of 19 boxes of correspondence; notes, writings and speeches; extensive subject files; and records of court cases documenting Carter's life and work. The collection also includes photographs of Carter and others, numerous awards and honors and artifacts. Subject files include memos, agendas, minutes, correspondence and reports from the Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted.  

The collection documents Carter’s involvement with non-profit legal organizations seeking to exonerate those wrongly convicted and his career as a motivational speaker and author, as well as his personal life. Subjects include social justice, legal reform, philosophy and boxing.

The bulk of the material dates from the mid-1990s through the 2000s, although there are notes, writings and correspondence dating back to Carter’s imprisonment in the 1970s and 1980s.  More detailed description of the material is available in the finding aid for the collection, which is available in the Tufts Digital Library.

Dan Santamaria, director of Digital Collections and Archives at Tufts, said, "We are very excited to make the Rubin Carter papers available for use at Tufts.  In addition to telling the fascinating story of Rubin Carter’s life, we see the papers as a tool for exploring issues surrounding incarceration and imprisonment in the United States. We will collaborate with Tufts colleagues at the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy and the Institute for Global Leadership to help students, faculty and others concerned with these issues find connections and inspiration in this and other archival collections.”

Rubin Carter was born on May 6, 1937, in Clifton, N.J., to Lloyd and Bertha Carter. At age 14, he was convicted of robbery and assault and sent to the Jamesburg Home for Boys in New Jersey, from which he escaped at age 17 to join the Army. There he took up boxing and was discharged in 1956. A year later he was convicted of robbery and assault and spent four years in Trenton State Prison. He became a professional boxer on his release in 1961, narrowly losing the World Boxing Association middleweight championship in 1964. Carter and his friend John Artis were arrested in 1966 and charged with committing three murders at the Lafayette Bar in Paterson, N.J. Despite inconsistencies in testimony and conflicting evidence, Carter and Artis were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.

While in prison, Carter published The Sixteenth Round: From Number 1 Contender to #45472 (1974). Musician Bob Dylan read the book and visited Carter in prison in 1975, leading to the composition of his song "Hurricane," which raised public awareness of Carter and his case. The two identifying witnesses recanted their testimony, and in March 1976 the New Jersey Supreme Court overturned the convictions of both Artis and Carter.

At a second trial in December 1976, prosecutors argued that Carter and Artis were motivated by racial revenge, and they were again convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Carter and lead attorney Myron Beldock continued to appeal his conviction with the assistance of members of a Canadian commune. On November 7, 1985, Judge Sarokin of the United States District Court in Newark overturned the second conviction and ruled that the prosecutors had withheld evidence and violated the defendants' constitutional rights. Carter was released the next day after a bail hearing.

In 1988, Carter moved to Toronto, Canada. In addition to a career as a popular motivational speaker, he was the executive director of the Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted from 1993 to 2004. He worked with the Innocence Project to exonerate the wrongfully convicted and founded Innocence International in 2004. His autobiography, Eye of the Hurricane: My Path from Darkness to Freedom, written with Ken Klonsky, was published in 2011. Carter has received numerous awards and honors, including honorary doctorates from Griffith University and York University and an honorary championship belt from the World Boxing Council. In 1999, "The Hurricane," a movie based on Carter’s experiences, was released starring Denzel Washington in the title role.

In 2011 Carter was invited by the Tufts Institute for Global Leadership and the Africana Center to speak at Tufts on his life, as chronicled in his book. His talk, entitled "Going the Distance," was arranged by Thom Kidrin, his friend of 38 years and the executor and trustee of his estate.

Carter donated his papers to Tufts Digital Collections and Archives as a research resource for proactive engagement by students and researchers under the Center for Race and Democracy and the Institute for Global Leadership. John Artis has worked and will continue to work closely with Kidrin and with Tufts Digital Collections and Archives throughout the processing of these papers and associated projects.  

Tufts University, located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville and Grafton, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoy a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university's schools is widely encouraged.

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