A DEATH IN TEXAS: A Story of Race, Murder, and a Small Town's Struggle for Redemption

Dina Temple-Raston, Author
Dina Temple-Raston, Author . Holt $26 (336p) ISBN 978-0-8050-6652-4
Open Ebook - 336 pages - 978-1-4668-1879-8
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-8050-7277-8
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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. (Jan.)

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