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Our Town: A Heartland Lynching, a Haunted Town, and the Hidden History of White America Hardcover – March 21, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Former Village Voice arts writer Carr has crafted a searing look at race in America that combines investigative journalism with an intensely personal family history. She uses the 1930 lynching of two African-American men in Marion, Ind., where her father and grandfather grew up, as a prism to examine not only the psychology of the lynch mob members but the thousands of bystanders, some of whom were immortalized in a revolting and haunting photograph, which shows townspeople gathering to stare at the mutilated corpses, still dangling from their nooses. Carr's discovery that her beloved grandfather belonged to the Ku Klux Klan and may have been involved in the hate crime leads her to return to Marion and ask questions that many on both sides of the racial divide find uncomfortable. Carr's sense that she bears—that we all bear—a burden of guilt allows her an empathy that enables her to gain access to present-day Klan members, who talk freely about their ideology; her refusal to view herself as morally superior to them lends power to her observations, and her lack of self-righteousness is refreshing. This outstanding narrative is an excellent companion to last year's Blood Done Sign My Name and Arc of Justice, which also used a crime as an entry point into the struggle for civil rights. With the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe reviving the debate on the state of race relations in this country, this book will have an extra topicality in addition to its narrative power that should deservedly attract a wide audience. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.
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From Booklist

Marion, Indiana, was the site of a lynching in 1930 that was immortalized in photos of white townsfolk--men, women, and children--looking on, reflecting a complex range of responses from festive to shock. Carr, a journalist, was raised in Marion, and as a child she heard discussions that piqued her interest. Later, she discovered that her grandfather had been an active member of the Klan during the period of the lynching. She uncovers secrets, both familial and national, surrounding troubled race relations. Those she was able to interview include James Cameron, who survived the lynching and later created the Black Holocaust Museum; Cameron's nephew, a Marion police detective, who sought to investigate the lynching; and the former mayor, now 90 years old. Carr also found a black community not as oppressed as the lynching would seem to indicate. Carr's Marion, with its family and racial secrets, provides a glimpse at a complex America, not so distant in our past that its ghosts aren't capable of haunting us today. Vernon Ford
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (March 21, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0517705060
  • ISBN-13: 978-0517705063
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,225,181 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

My hat is off to her & her excellent writing of this book.
Maddie sez
I like the way this author thinks and I love the way she leads the reader along on the search for answers and meaning.
The night she leaves Marion, she can't resist one last visit to her grandmother's house.
Karen H. Vierneisel

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Karen H. Vierneisel on June 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Our Town: A Heartland Lynching, A Haunted Town, and the Hidden History of White America is an honest, though painful look at race relations in America. C. Carr sees parallels between her quest in Our Town and that of South Africa's "truth and reconciliation" hearings. The work bears witness to the searing history of lynching in towns all across America in the first half the last century. Carr captures white hatred, fear, denial, and guilt and black anger, bitterness, fear, and pain. She quotes Chilean legal philosopher and activist Jose Zalaquett, a member of the commission that investigated atrocities under the Pinochet regime: "If you have a choice between truth and justice, choose truth. Truth doesn't bring back the dead, but it does release them from silence." That's just what Carr does in this book.

Carr was 17 when she learned her beloved grandfather was a Klansman. Not until she was in her 20s did she see the infamous photo taken in her home town on the sweltering summer night of August 7, 1930--a black and white picture of two black men hanging from a tree as smiling townsfolk looked on. Like so many of us white liberals she felt guilty about our country's racist history. But Carr also felt a special shame about her town's history and her grandfather's membership in the Klan. That shame ultimately led her to write Our Town. Her story is an effort to examine the truth as a means of healing and opening a dialogue.

Carr pursues the truth like a bloodhound. It doesn't matter that she often loses the scent while on the trail because she refuses to give up and just keeps circling Marion and the small towns surrounding it until she gets the next whiff. Early on in her research she decides to go back home and ends up living in Marion, Indiana for an entire year.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Bookster on May 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I grew up 1/2 block from the Marion city limits. I spent 21 years there and wanted to leave from the time I was an adolescent. Although I have been gone over 30 years, I visit several times a year as I still have family there.

The lynching was not something I knew about until I was in high school. (I am white and went to all white county schools. My parents moved to Marion in the fifties.)

I also have to address the review by the man from TN. He objects to the characterization of the viewers in the lynching photo as gleeful. It is the single most harrowing aspect of the photo. Just look on the back of the dust jacket and decide for yourself.

His apologia is that the viewers may have been on a voyage of discovery and not have known how to react because who could enjoy looking at such a sight. How does the reviewer then explain the photo becoming a local bestseller?

The reviewer also suggests that the survivor of the lynch mob (James Cameron) may have fabricated his presence there. Cameron's surviving the lynch mob is not in question. There are numerous witnesses. The reviewer further tries to cast doubt by saying he doesn't recall what felony Cameron went to jail for. Cameron was imprisoned for his part in the killing of Deeter - the crime that led to the lynching - and was later pardoned by the Governor of Indiana. The teenaged Cameron had initially agreed to participate in the robbery but ran away when he recognized Deeter as a man who had been kind to him.

You will meet many like the reviewer from TN in Carr's book. A theme of the book is the continuing denial of the lynching and the racism in Marion by the white community. Marion has been crumbling and shrinking as long as I have known it. Now I know why.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By C.A.Lutes on May 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover
If you want to read truth that in many ways is a metaphor for what was happening across America over the last four decades, read this amazingly accurate account of Marion, Indiana, and its KKK, and the residue that still exists today there as well as in many other geographical locations in the minds and hearts of some Americans.

The reason why I know that her book is amazingly accurate is that I lived there and worked with many of these people Carr reports about. I not only taught at the two school systems and worked as a reporter at the Marion-Chronicle (a player in this drama)at the time, I was there standing outside my classroom the day the cafeteria erupted into a civil rights melee!

Although this book offers many threads of story, Carr's real contribution is the accurate documentation of a slice of history that shows the danger of "willful neglect" of us all as we watch innocent citizens abused and killed in the name of God.

---Charlene Lutes, Ph.D.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Samantha Jones on April 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In Our Town, Carr takes us on her 10-year search for the real story behind the August 1930 lynching that Marion, Indiana has never really dealt with. Carr's personal family history is intrinsically entwined with the story. Her grandfather, who lived in Marion, was a Klan member. The concept for the book was sparked when she broke her silence about her grandfather's Klan membership to a black friend. "Those are the stories we need to hear, that white people aren't telling," her friend had replied.

The book lays bare the long-term ramifications of secretiveness, and silence, about the past. Carr discovered a "code of silence" around closely held secrets woven through the fabric of Marion - not only about the lynching, but about the area's underground railroad history, and the fate of the local Miami Indian tribe, who used silence as a means to erase its own culture for the purpose of blending into the dominant white culture. Her grandmother, it turns out, claimed to have Miami Indian heritage. Her grandfather had used silence to erase his own past - in particular his illegitimate birth. And his klan membership wasn't known to most of his family until after his death.

Carr interviews scores of people in her 10-year odyssey. A seasoned investigative journalist, she sheds new light on some old mysteries. She also explores the kinds of human questions that most of us, as readers, would ask ourselves. Millions of us, after all, have the skeletons of Klan members in our own family closets. Carr's story would be left undone if she didn't search for her own truth, and she draws thoughtful and eye-opening conclusions. There are many gems to be found in this book. Our Town will hopefully act as a springboard for white-black dialogue about the past, and serve as both a tonic and a constructive tool in our collective struggle for improved race relations.
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