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on February 11, 2004
I grew up in Richmond, Indiana, about an hour from the Marion, location of the lynchings. Because of my family's friendship with blacks and my mother's civil right's activity (in the 1960s), we sustained threats and physical abuse that necessitated police intervention. In Wayne County, of which Richmond is the county seat, apparently up to half of the white males were members of the KKK in the 1920s. Statewide, the Klan was as powerful as it was in any other state. The ugly history of Indiana racism deserves more attention, and Madison directs us to one especially compelling story.
Like many non-fiction books, the story is more interesting than the telling. Madison is a pedantic writer and the editing is mediocre. The author has an infuriating habit of engaging in unfounded speculation. For instance, he writes "Indeed, it may have been the Beitler photograph [of the lynchings] that so haunted Abel Meeropol and led him to write [the jazz song] 'Strange Fruit.'" And Meeropol may not have seen the photo, so why bother to speculate about the unknowable?
The lynch mob intended to murder three young men, but the youngest, James Cameron, was apparently spared because someone in the mob declared that he was innocent. Madison spends much time on Cameron, but his story comes off somewhat incoherent. In later life Cameron, who admitted his role in the killing that led to the lynchings, wrote a book and devoted himself to publicizing the incident. Madison notes in passing that Cameron fictionalized some events in his book, but he isn't inclined to challenge the eventual transformation of Camerson into something of a hero. As grizzly as the lynchings were, the victims-- if Cameron is to be believed -- were hardly saints. Madison dances gingerly around the issue of guilt, as if the lynchings could only be denounced if those hung were nice people. No doubt some of those lynched throughout the U.S. were guilty, but that doesn't lessen the abomination of the the mob response, and its indiscriminate spilling into further racial violence.
Mary Ball was a white woman who claimed to have been raped one or more of the three black men. Yet she was said to have been in a relationship with one of the three, and on good terms with the others. Madison does a poor job of nailing down the most likely explanation of what actually happened to Ball, if anything. He doesn't ask the obvious question: since James Cameron was there, why didn't he tell whether Mary was raped? If he did tell, why doesn't Madison tell us what Cameron said happened? It is as though Madison wants to use the fragments that enhance the undeniable horror of the lynchings, while ignoring details that cast the victims in a bad light. This may be good politics, but it is poor historical writing. Let's know the facts and let the chips fall where they might.
On balance, the book is worth reading, but with an eye to the loose ends Madison neglects to tie up.
It is a testament to America's transformation that Marion, and my town Richmond, have seen radical improvement in black-white relations. A friend of my family was a fireman who, like all black firemen in Richmond, was segregated at Station No. 2 into the 1960s (and long denied deserved promotions). He eventually retired as assistant chief and his daughter was elected president of the student body at Richmond High School. It still isn't uncommon to hear the word "nigger" spoken (by whites) in Richmond, but the town, Indiana, and America, have come a long way.
It's important to be aware of history, though.
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VINE VOICEon August 1, 2011
On August 7, 1930 a crowd of hundreds, possibly thousands swarmed around the Grant County Court House in Marion, Indiana with the intent to remove three black teenagers and kill them by hanging from the trees on the Court House lawn - a lynching. Two of the young men were lynched, the third was spared for reasons that no one seems to remember. The survivor claims it was a miracle that he was released and put back into the jail, and it may well have been so. Nevertheless, it may have mostly disappeared from America's collective memory except as an aberration from the stereotypical norm of lynchings being a mostly Southern phenomenon.

That is, it may have been forgotten except for the picture taken by a local photographer named Lawrence Beitler who printed off hundreds of copies and sold them to gawkers the next day. Those copies made their way across the state and eventually across the world to be reprinted in newspapers, magazines, textbook and even in movies. The Beitler print is the iconic photo of a lynching. Two young men hang dead while a crowd of onlookers gawk. An angry man points. A husband and his pregnant wife hold hands and smile as though a lynching were as much fun as the county fair. Old men and old women stand and stare - one old woman uses the occasion to people watch. The surreality is striking and disturbing.

James H. Madison's A Lynching in the Heartland: Race and Memory in the Heartland is more than a look at that one awful night. He puts it in context. He discusses lynching throughout the country, looks at the history of Grant County and its history of race relations and what he refers to as the ever-shifting "color line" - those unnamed rules of proper relations between blacks and whites in America as a whole and in Grant Country in particular.

Madison does not try to portray the victims of the lynch mob as martyred saints, nor does he demonize white Hoosiers. There are heroes and villains in the book, to be sure but they come as individuals, not in racial groups. This is not a case of the Ku Klux Klan rolling into town and killing two young man (the KKK was mostly disgraced and defunct in Marion after many statewide scandals despite having had a popular run a few years before). Nor is it the case of a consistently intolerant city just doing what came naturally. Madison shows us the frustrating nuances that make this a complicated piece of history.

Madison follows the city through the 1940s and into the Civil Rights era of the 50s, 60s and 70s to the turn of the 21st century. Real racial progress was made, in fits and starts. But, always looming in the background was the awful image of Beitler's photograph...

Truly a remarkably well-written and deftly handled history.
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on October 30, 2013
This is a necessary lesson in human nature. My experience in this part of the world caused me to question the reactions of the uneducated white people, when they encounter a group of minorities in a department store. Realizing that our presence motivated someone to set off the alarms and call in all the security. What we have here, is a failure to communicate.
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on April 1, 2012
I am a student at a University in Chicagoland Illinios, pursuing a degree in Social Science Teaching. In the course of my studies, I am working on a research project, focusing on a lynching that occurred in central Illinois at the end of the 19th century.

This book is written to describe the events in Marion, Indiana surrounding and following the 1930 lynching of two men from the community. I originally sought it out to get some background information on other lynchings in the Midwest for context, which this supplied, (even if it did happen 30 years after the events of my research). The book was written, as explained by the author, to draw attention to the racial conflict and hatred endemic in America. The information used for this book was collected, in a large part, from books and articles, as is to be expected from a historical work, but also from interviews with many people, which helps give more of a narrative tone to the book as a whole. In general, the information shared in the book is highly accurate, although due to the extensive use of interviews and personal narratives, one must account for the natural bias there. The author, a professor of history (and some time chair for the department) at Indiana University and former Fulbiright Professor, does a good job of accounting for, and balancing that bias, throughout the book. First published in 2001, it is new enough to be considered up-to-date for the subject it seeks to describe.

The book provides the background to the lynching, the lynching itself, the events immediately following, and the impact that this part of history, as well as the sentiment it represented, had on the community in the decades and generations to follow. As is typical in many history books, marketed more to the public, there are several pictures in the center of the book, including the famous photograph. Through the course of the book, I, in my academic interests, found myself wishing the author analyzed and sought to explain things more than he did. However, that is largely a personal preference, and the book stands well enough as it is.

This book, perhaps, is not highly useful for my research, as the lynching I am studying was so distant from the case in Marion by both time and some distance. However, the analyses provided by the author, limited though it may be, gives some potential insight into lynching as a whole. Furthermore, it is very readable, in part due to the narrative tone and "report" feel, rather than an upper-crusty historian's analysis. People in general, high school level and above, could greatly benefit from learning such an important part of racial history, that is often neglected.
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on October 29, 2006
Years ago, when I was a married man living in Marion, Indiana, I recall my ex-wife muttering once about something having to do with a lynching that had taken place in Marion years ago. I never got any details, but it clearly disturbed her to talk about it.

A couple of weeks ago, while browsing the Internet, I ran across the picture of Abe Smith and Thomas Shipp, their bruised lifeless bodies hanging limp while a crowd of White men and women stand beneath smiling and appearing oh so proud and pleased at what they had accomplished.

And, then, it hit me. My ex-wife's mother's maiden name was Shipp.

We people of color, even now, in this generation, carry such heavy scars from the barbarism of so many brutal Whites. How should I explain to my son what probably happened to one of his ancestors?

I needed to know what happened, so I read Madison's book. Throughout this entire book, Madison writes as if the third young black man, James Cameron, who barely escaped a similar fate as Smith and Shipp, may have participated in the murder and may have raped Mary Ball. In all his research, Mr. Madison, a White Indiana University professor, doesn't seem to have been able to determine if Cameron was guilty or innocent, or even if Mary Ball had really been raped.

Next, I read "A Time of Terror", the eyewitness account of the third brother, James Cameron, who barely escaped from a similiar fate as Smith and Shipp. From Cameron, I found out that his innocence was beyond question. He was sent to jail by an all white (of course) Indiana jury, no surprise there. But, during the trial, Mary Ball admitted that she had never seen Cameron before and, furthermore, that she had not been raped.

The pertinent question, here, is why Madison, a White Indiana University professor, chose not to believe the accounts of the only two surviving eyewitnesses, Cameron and Ball?

Cameron and Ball are both dead now. And, Cameron's book is now out of print. I had to spend $75 to get a used paperback edition.

I have to wonder, if he had been alive in Marion, Indiana in the year 1930, would Madison, a White Indiana University professor, have been one of those godless people we see standing and smiling and looking so pleased as they admire the Strange Fruit hanging from the trees?
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on October 12, 2013
I have zero respect for manipulation, lies and liars. The author goes to great lengths first to manipulate the motives and intentions of those joining the "2nd klan" and attempts to paint the thousands joining in on terrorizing and intimidating the nation's black population in the 1920's. The klan was NEVER a benevolent organization and the fact is those who joined were aware of the group's history, motives and agenda and no attempt to excuse anything that occurred as a result of the klan's existence will ever ever change that. The klan from its very beginning was organized to intimidate, terrorize and kill innocent black people and make their lives a living hell all because of whites need to feel superior and make others subservient. Hatred was the klan's primary reason for existence along with resentment and jealousy that the south lost the civil war and that black people were no longer as disposable as cattle and white's in the south above the law. The gross injustice committed by the klan fills volumes of court documents of trials across the country however the author repeatedly tries to manipulate the fact those joining the organization did so out civil responsibility although his pathetic, poorly researched claims are easily disputed by a check of documentation citing crimes, thefts, arsons and murder committed by the klan all over the country. The overwhelming impression of this book is that the author is either a klan sympathizer, klan member or had klan family members. Anyone believing half of the author's claims is either looking for a reason to justify the monstrous evil the klan is responsibile for inflicting on innocent people or is delusional or both. TThe author in print and lectures attempts to distort the truth of the klan who were nothing more than rabid racists full of rage at the end of slavery and jealous of the fact blacks were no longer legally subservient to the filth and evil whites were accustomed to inflicting on them - and that whites could be prosecuted after the federal government enacted laws to protect ex-slaves. Slavery was a monstrosity, the klan is a monstrosity and there is absolutely no way possible to hide the fact the organization was and is a terrorist group despite efforts to distort the truth of their origins and history. Terming those who joined the klan "good christian white people" - who joined with full knowledge of the organization's hate-filled murderous past and agenda - is an affront to God as is their rituals involving burning the holiest symbol of Christ's sacrifice as a symbol of hatred and death. The federal government passed laws against klan activity from 1868 on because members were responsibile for hundreds of murders, church burnings and intimidating blacks from the right to vote and the author can attempt to distort and excuse the truth all he wants but his claims are nothing more than white-washed lies meant to eradicate the filth of racist hatred. By no means was the klan ever intended as a christian group seeking to enforce morality - and whether or nor evil occurred in Indiana is open to speculation but the fact remains the klan was organized as a hate group to terrorize and commit murder and nothing will ever change that fact. I was sickened and angered by the author's attempts to paint a picture of benign christrians who happened to be white joining the klan out of civic responsibility because he completely ignores the history and evils the klan was known for since its beginning two years after the end of the civil war. This book in my opinion is a worthless, manipulated attempt to distort history. A worthless read and waste of money.
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on January 3, 2014
I just watched this so-called historian on a C-Span q and a about this book. He compared the modern TEA Party to the KKK. I didn't realise that the tea-party were democrats and performed lynchings. I would stay very far from this book that has an author like this with an obvious political agenda.

@J. Obrien - Did you watch this author's politically biased C-Span q and a about this book? Of course not because you're a leftist that can't see the Truth.
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