Our Town: A Heartland Lynching, a Haunted Town, and the Hidden History of White America

Cynthia Carr, Author . Crown $25.95 (501p) ISBN 978-0-517-70506-3

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 . Agent, Joy Harris. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 10/03/2005
Release date: 03/01/2006
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 501 pages - 978-0-307-34188-4
Ebook - 385 pages - 978-0-307-34546-2
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