A Death in Texas

A Death in Texas

A Story of Race, Murder, and A Small Town's Struggle for Redemption

Book - 2002
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An extraordinary account of how a small Texas town struggled to come to grips with its racist past in the aftermath of the brutal murder of James Byrd, Jr.On June 7, 1998, a forty-nine-year-old black man named James Byrd, Jr., was chained to the bumper of a truck and dragged three miles down a country road by a trio of young white men. It didn't take long for the residents of Jasper, Texas, to learn about the murder or to worry that the name of their town would become the nation's shorthand for hate crimes.From the initial investigation through the trials and their aftermath, A Death in Texas tells the story of the infamous Byrd murder as seen through the eyes of enlightened Sheriff Billy Rowles. What he sees is a community forced to confront not only a grisly crime but also antebellum traditions about race. Drawing on extensive interviews with key players, journalist Dina Temple-Raston introduces a remarkable cast of characters, from the baby-faced killer, Bill King, to Joe Tonahill, Jasper's white patriarch who can't understand the furor over the killing. There's also James Byrd, the hard-drinking victim with his own dark past; the prosecutor and defense attorneys; and Bill King's father, who is dying of a broken heart as he awaits his son's execution.Just as Bernard Lefkowitz pulled back the curtain on Glenridge, New Jersey, in his classic work Our Guys, Temple-Raston goes behind the scenes in Jasper, Texas, to tell the story of a town where racism and evil made itself at home
Publisher: New York : H. Holt, 2002.
ISBN: 9780805066524
0805066527
Characteristics: 316 p. :,ill., map ;,25 cm.

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GlenAbbeyWarrior
Mar 01, 2016

Looking at the racial killing of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas, the author provides plenty of insight into this brutal dragging death that turned a small East Texas town into a three-ring media circus back in 1998. For starters, I enjoyed learning about the history of Jasper, which fell victim to hard economic times when the bottom fell out of the timber industry. And there was quite a lot I didn't know about both the killers, who seemed to be radicalized in prison, and the victim, who was no saint himself. Unfortunately, when the subject matter shifted to "hate" crimes -- not to be confused with violent crimes committed out of love -- the book really took a nose dive. While this was indeed a horrific murder and the perpetrators deserved the maximum sentence, which in this case was the death penalty, the author fails to inform her readers about the reality of interracial murders in the United States. Contrary to popular belief, an astonishing 90% of these killings are black-on-white, according to FBI and DOJ statistics. But while reading A Death in Texas, you would think that the Byrd slaying was the rule and not the exception. Which of course begs the question that she desperately tries to avoid: why do cases with a black victim and a white perpetrator receive wall-to-wall media analysis while the opposite (see Christian/Newsom, Wichita massacre) which are clearly motivated by hate only get local coverage at best?

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