Friday, October 21, 2016

The Lynching by Laurence Leamer

  • THE BOOK
    • The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle That Brought Down the Klan by Laurence Leamer
    • Published June 7, 2016
    • Other books by author include The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family and The Kennedy Men: 1901-1963, among many others.

  • THE PREMISE
    • After a hung jury in an Alabama trial of a black man accused of murder of a white man two Mobile Klansmen randomly selected a black man to kill him in retaliation, leaving his body strung up in a tree.
    • Both killers were convicted but a lawyer named Morris Dees, a founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), went after the Klan organization because he realized that the killers acted on coded instructions from the Klan leadership.
      • He won a $7 million verdict that forced the United Klans of America, then the largest Klan organization, into folding.
    • The lynching occurred in 1981. The victim was a 19-year-old man named Michael Donald.
      • He was murdered before he was strung up on the tree so by definition he was not lynched per se but the reasoning of the Klan made it an equivalent crime.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • The book is made up of three main sections: the murder, the background and the trial.
    • The background gives a rough history of lynching, the civil rights battles, the virulent racism of many whites as it ramped up during integration, and the political career of George Wallace.
      • Wallace, a governor of Alabama for several terms and a presidential candidate several times, early realized he could get votes by pandering to the whites by opposing integration.
        • His most famous quote is probably "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" during his inauguration for governor in 1963.
          • Even though he recanted later in life for fomenting such virulent racism, his words fostered the environment where the Klan could thrive.
        • Alabama did not allow consecutive terms for governor in his early career so his wife Lurleen ran in 1966.
          • Lurleen died of uterine cancer about a year after her inauguration. She had been diagnosed in 1961 during the birth of her last child but in those days they only told the husband and Wallace chose to keep her in the dark. A few years later another doctor told her she had cancer which came as a complete surprise to Lurleen. It had spread too far by then.
          • I remember as I was growing up everyone was TERRIFIED of cancer and if it was discussed at all it was only in whispers. When I was 10 my mother had a tumor that turned out to be benign but I remember overhearing someone whisper, "Those poor children," about my brothers and me because they thought my mother was on the way out. (She lived another 40 years.)
    • I recently read a book called White Trash and some of this book made sense in relation to the Klan members. So many poor white men felt more powerful being part of an organization that focused invective on people who they considered much lower than they were on the class spectrum.
      • They were welcomed into the Klan and embraced its quasi-military structure and the rituals involved.
      • Racism was especially strong after decades of civil rights advances, integration and many of the same things we are still dealing with today from a several hundred year history of slavery.
    • The SPLC continues to go after hate groups and other civil rights-violating groups.
    • You can't really "enjoy" a book about a murder but this was a quick read and an interesting one.
      • I can never understand how people violently hate another group of people and yet it must be part of our human makeup. It seems the human psyche needs to have someone to look up to as well as have someone to look down on, doesn't it? No one ever wants to be on the bottom rung of society.
      • Personal rant: this is why education is so important and why I think there should be some way to offer the same class of education to every child. Education often gets people out of poverty. I fear this would mean a radical overhaul of education in general which is probably not gonna happen any time soon. 
    • Recommended for history buffs, especially those interested in African-American history.

2 comments:

  1. "Education is so important and ... there should be some way to offer the same class of education to every child." College, too.

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  2. Holy cow! We actually read the same book! I liked it okay (3 out of 4 stars), though I wondered if the author ever literally got into bed with Morris Dees; his fawning was so ridiculous after a while. Mr. Dees has many fine accomplishments to be proud of, but he also comes across as a bit of a slut, right? I really liked the mom of the young man who was murdered. She broke my heart.

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