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A Death in Texas: A Story of Race, Murder and a Small Town's Struggle for Redemption Hardcover – January 6, 2002

3.8 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1st edition (January 6, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805066527
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805066524
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,527,846 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The entire nation turned its eyes to Jasper, Texas, during the summer of 1998. James Byrd, Jr.'s horrific death at the hands of three white supremacist shocked us all. How could this happen in 1998, we asked ourselves? How could we live in a society where one is beaten, has his face spray painted black, and his dragged to his death behind the back of a pickup truck just because of the color of his skin?
Reporter Dina Temple-Raston has just written what I believe will become the definitive book on Byrd's murder and its aftermath. I'm not sure how an attractive woman reporter from the northeast, with no obvious ties to east Texas was able to capture the essence of our lives, but she did. And she did it brilliantly...with a few exceptions.
I have some problems with her geography and basic facts that a good editor should have caught: Houston is NOT the capitol of Texas (p. 39); Sulphur Springs is NOT in central Texas (p. 71)...it's in north east Texas between Dallas and Texarkana; it's located in HOPKINS county, not Delta County (p. 137); and Vidor is SOUTHWEST of Jasper, not northwest (p. 142). These errors will cost the author some credibility, but they don't take away from the essence of the story: Despite the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement, we have not put our racist past behind us.
We are lucky that Temple-Raston chose to pay more attention to her subject matter and to handle the characters swirling around in the plot with much more care than she paid to her geography. She details the lives of the three killers: Bill King; Russell Brewer; and Shawn Berry with great care. She is honest in her depiction of James Byrd, Jr. as an alcoholic who couldn't keep a job, drove his wife and children away, and even borrowed money from the preacher's elderly mother.
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By A Customer on January 15, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I typically would not write a review, but having grown up in Jasper I felt compelled to applaud the author for this book. Temple-Raston does an excellent job of capturing the underlying attitudes and perceptions that many people felt following this crime. She captures information from all sides, giving a true picture. History and other events are intertwined with the main storyline in just the right mixture, providing the reader the necessary background.
The only thing that may detract from the credibility of the story was some obvious mistakes in geographical references. The author and editors should have caught many of these. But these will go unnoticed by readers not familiar with the area.
Overall, Temple-Raston has taken this nationally covered event and presented it in a manner allowing everyone to understand the struggles that still exist today.
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Format: Hardcover
After the sensational news reports and the inflammatory speeches by those with no personal stake in Jasper have faded into the nearly forgotten past, this book provides a balanced and comprehensive review of the people, places, and events which put Jasper on the map. It was a quick and compelling read, the sort of book which will keep you up past your bedtime. But you come away from it feeling that you know and understand what happened in Jasper, something which the evening newscasts did not accomplish.
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Format: Hardcover
When I first heard about this book I didn't think I would want to read it. I thought I knew everything I wanted to know about the James Byrd murder. Then I started reading. This book is really about the state of race relations in this country and the subtle racism that still exists in our day to day lives. People may want to say this could only happen in an isolated town like Jasper, but it could happen anywhere. I expected to just dip into the book and then it sucked me in and I couldn't put it down. It is written like a novel and you end up rooting for characters and actually feeling like you've been to Jasper and the woods when you are done. I highly recommend this book. Even if you are a little reticent to start a book about a terrible murder, you won't be sorry you picked this one up. Five stars!
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Format: Hardcover
If you thought you knew just about everything there was to know about this horrible crime then you are probably in for a rude awakening. To say that Dina Temple-Raston's research of this crime and the background information is thorough is a major understatement. If you read this book, you will come aways a virtual expert on this incident, and the major players involved. The book is so complete that I couldn't imagine another book coming along presenting anything new, unless it was an update after this book was published.
She begins her book simply enough with the discovery of James Byrd's body. You immediately get the feeling of a fuze being lit on a bomb as the word of mouth starts to carry through the entire community. She succinctly traces how the news is passed from citizen to citizen about the torn up body of a black man that has yet to be identified. After the initial discovery, collecting of evidence, and the eventual identification, she then begins to explore the mulitple paths and dimensions that are at first seem very unrelated, but are drawn together in a way that keeps you turning from one chapter to the next.
She explores the make-up of Jasper, and its history. Nothing is left out as she goes way back in the past almost to the beginnings of settlement, and explains how prominent families got their fame, how the lumbering industry helped the town grow, and how earlier racial conflicts affected this part of Texas and this town in particular.
Fading back to the present we go into the interesting backgrounds of the major players in this sad saga. Interviews, quotes, and background of the most important people are at the heart of this book: members of James Byrd's family, the Sheriff, the minister crucial in the black community, and the perpetrator's family members.
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