An account of the savage killings of two black couples in an insular, bigoted Georgia town just after World War II.
The author of several intriguing, disparate historical studies, Pitch ("They Have Killed Papa Dead!": The Road to Ford's Theatre, Abraham Lincoln's Murder, and the Rage for Vengeance, 2008, etc.) delves into the largely unsolved lynching in Monroe, Georgia, in July 1946, which was prompted, superficially, by the stabbing of a white man by a jealous husband. However, coming on the heels of World War II—when the Nuremberg Trials were just then convicting Nazi war criminals—and involving an African-American veteran of the struggle, the awful irony of the senseless, clannish vigilante violence emerges. The murders took place during the closing days of a “race-baiting” Georgia gubernatorial election campaign by white supremacist incumbent Eugene Talmadge, who pledged to ban blacks from voting if re-elected. Within this racially fraught atmosphere, Roger Malcolm chased his wife, Dorothy, to the home of white farmer Barnett Hester and stabbed Hester, having suspected that he and Dorothy were “carrying on.” Hester did not die, and Malcolm was released on bond from jail by his “boss man” Loy Harrison, who, along with another black couple riding along as passengers in Harrison’s car, was allegedly going to take him out of the county. Ambushed by a white posse while crossing Moore’s Ford Bridge, the two couples were dragged from the car and shot. Despite many eyewitnesses in the area, as well as what two boys watching from a nearby hill later revealed about the tragedy, the FBI was not able to indict anyone for the murders. While Pitch provides an adequate sketch of the town, atmosphere, victims, and prime suspects, he does not reach the resonant depth of reporting displayed in Karen Branan’s The Family Tree (2015).
With suspicions still extant in the town, the book delivers an eye-opening reminder of ongoing bigotry.