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Race, Violence, and the Last Lynching in America

by B.J. Hollars

Pub Date: Sept. 6th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8173-1753-9
Publisher: Univ. of Alabama

An intensive examination of lynching in Alabama and its ties to the evolution of Southern racial violence.

Hollars (Creative Writing/Univ. of Wisconsin-Eau Claire; editor: You Must Be This Tall To Ride: Contemporary Writers Take You Inside the Story, 2009) puts a creative spin on his analysis of three lynching cases in the American South: innocent victims Vaudine Maddox (1933), Gene Ballard (1979), and Michael Donald (1981), all violent Alabama murders that became serpentine investigations riddled with false accusations, cover-ups and the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan. With meticulous detailing, the author describes the three cases, individually and, in concluding updates, how they coalesce. In Tuscaloosa, Maddox’s lifeless body was found pummeled by stones; her murder, in turn, spurred the lynching of three young black male suspects. White police sergeant and family man Gene Ballard was shot in cold blood while investigating a botched bank robbery in Birmingham; two years later, his murderer, Josephus Anderson, a local black troublemaker, was freed on a mistrial. This event sparked an act of violent retribution, resulting in the 13-looped noose, revenge lynching of innocent, 19-year-old Michael Donald in Mobile by two admitted Klansmen, an event that, after a guilty court ruling, ended up bankrupting the United Klans of America faction. Hollars’ text is scholarly and comprehensive but delivered in a fresh, far-from-dry journalistic style. Along with a wide range of source materials like media articles, official statements and interviews with police and local Alabamans, a section of archival photographs (some grisly) provides a humane nuance. The author is also quite astute at drawing meaningful comparisons. He discusses Donald’s lynching in 1981 alongside the murder of gay man Matthew Shepard in 1998, each established as a “hate crime” and further solidifying the terminology in police work and legislation alike.

A creatively written, edifying work of historical significance and a boon for those interested in Southern race relations.