In the small town of Jasper, in the piney woods of deep East Texas, old slave relations still live below the surface along with an unwritten code of segregation. It was there that James Byrd was savagely dragged to death by three white men in a pickup. His death threatened to blow the town open. Dina Temple-Raston poignantly captures Jasper's desperate attempt to save its image as Jesse Jackson, the New Black Panthers, the KKK, and the media descended. In the process, she delves into such questions as, What does racism look like and where does it come from; follows the murderers to their final destination at Huntsville prison (ground zero for 40 percent of American executions); and shows how death forces people to see things the way they really are--and just how quickly they forget. A Death in Texas is a stunning and painful book that exposes racism in all its subtle and violent forms, and portrays the small heroes who try to change history. --Lesley Reed
From Publishers Weekly
This perceptive, grimly compelling account of the brutal 1998 murder of James Byrd in Jasper, Tex., is the first book on this nationally reported incident and a fine piece of journalistic reporting, covering the prosecution of Byrd's killers and the social and political aftermath for Jasper. On June 7, 1998, Byrd, a 49-year-old black man, was intentionally dragged behind a truck in such a way that his head and right arm were severed. Three white men were quickly arrested;. two were eventually sentenced to death and one to life imprisonment. Temple-Raston, a former foreign correspondent, uses this basic crime narrative as the backdrop for a complex, multilayered portrait of a small town coming to grips with its own history of racial hatred while simultaneously being thrust into the national limelight. Temple-Raston has a fine eye for detail: she documents how the town's lumber industry had historically abused black labor and mutilated black male bodies. Elsewhere, she presents the father of one of the killers remembering his brother's 1939 trial and acquittal for the murder of a gay man. And she captures the hysteria and fear that grip the town's population in the aftermath: the black community wonders what they might have done to prevent this; a policeman complains that Byrd was "the town drunk." Unsparing in her examination of the race hatred that led to the crime two of the men were members of "Christian Identity" white supremacist groups Temple-Raston is extraordinarily nuanced in exploring how poor, white men (often in prison) are drawn to this horrific ideology. Through a plethora of telling moments here, Temple-Raston painfully explores and exposes the lives of her subjects and the complications of hate and prejudice in the U.S.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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