The Three Death Sentences of Clarence Henderson: A Battle for Racial Justice at the Dawn of the Civil Rights Era

Chris Joyner. Abrams, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4197-5636-8
Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigative reporter Joyner debuts with a searing look at an unsolved murder case, which led to three trials, three convictions, and three death sentences for Black sharecropper Clarence Henderson. On Halloween night 1948, in Carrollton, Ga., a masked man with a gun ordered 22-year-old military veteran Buddy Stevens and his teenage girlfriend, Nan Turner, to get out of Stevens’s parked car. The man ordered Stevens to rape Turner, but he refused. Stevens subsequently lunged at the man, who shot him dead, and Turner escaped. When ballistics seemed to match a weapon that a man claimed Henderson had sold him two months after the murder, Henderson was arrested. That led to his long odyssey in the criminal justice system and the intervention of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, whose lawyers were led by Thurgood Marshall. Eventually, in 1953, Henderson’s attorneys’ efforts on multiple appeals led to his being freed, though in Georgia many continued to believe he “was a serial rapist of white women who had gotten away with murder.” Joyner provides just the right level of detail in this stranger-than-fiction narrative, in which endemic racism almost resulted in the execution of an innocent man. Admirers of Timothy Tyson’s The Blood of Emmett Till will be riveted. Agent: Matt Carlini, Javelin. (Jan.)
Reviewed on : 10/27/2021
Release date: 01/11/2022
Genre: Nonfiction
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