A true-crime tale that offers a rare insider’s perspective on the KKK in its heyday in Mississippi.



A retired University of Mississippi journalism professor recounts the story of a Mississippian who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan and served as an informant for the FBI.

Wilkie has reported on civil rights for more than 50 years. In his latest book, he digs into White supremacy and voter suppression with a welcome excavation of the neglected story of Tom Landrum, a courageous Jones County youth court counselor who, at the request of the FBI, joined and provided secret reports on the organization known as the White Knights of the Mississippi Ku Klux Klan, which had murdered civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner the previous year. Landrum went undercover after growing disturbed by the racism of local officials, who kept Black residents from registering to vote in part by requiring them to answer questions such as, “How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?” The author draws on Landrum’s written FBI reports and other credible sources in this account of how prosecutors won convictions of a group of White Knights implicated in the murder of Vernon Dahmer, a longtime county NAACP president who had worked to register Black voters and died after Klansmen firebombed his house. Wilkie has reconstructed some conversations, which results at times in dialogue perhaps too neatly expository and requires him frequently to quote Klan members’ use of derogatory racial terms. (Wilkie quotes members’ use of the N-word 100+ times. It’s never used gratuitously but rather demonstrates the virulent racism.) Nonetheless, the author skillfully examines a case full of cloak-and-dagger intrigue: passwords, death threats, secret codes, clandestine meetings in wooded areas after dark, and well-maintained suspense about whether the White Knights would discover the spy in their midst. In different ways, Landrum and Dahmer risked their lives to fight appalling injustices, and anyone looking for underappreciated civil rights heroes might profitably start with either man.

A true-crime tale that offers a rare insider’s perspective on the KKK in its heyday in Mississippi.

Pub Date: June 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-324-00575-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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"There's got to be something wrong with somebody who'd do a thing like that." This is Perry Edward Smith, talking about himself. "Deal me out, baby...I'm a normal." This is Richard Eugene Hickock, talking about himself. They're as sick a pair as Leopold and Loeb and together they killed a mother, a father, a pretty 17-year-old and her brother, none of whom they'd seen before, in cold blood. A couple of days before they had bought a 100 foot rope to garrote them—enough for ten people if necessary. This small pogrom took place in Holcomb, Kansas, a lonesome town on a flat, limitless landscape: a depot, a store, a cafe, two filling stations, 270 inhabitants. The natives refer to it as "out there." It occurred in 1959 and Capote has spent five years, almost all of the time which has since elapsed, in following up this crime which made no sense, had no motive, left few clues—just a footprint and a remembered conversation. Capote's alternating dossier Shifts from the victims, the Clutter family, to the boy who had loved Nancy Clutter, and her best friend, to the neighbors, and to the recently paroled perpetrators: Perry, with a stunted child's legs and a changeling's face, and Dick, who had one squinting eye but a "smile that works." They had been cellmates at the Kansas State Penitentiary where another prisoner had told them about the Clutters—he'd hired out once on Mr. Clutter's farm and thought that Mr. Clutter was perhaps rich. And this is the lead which finally broke the case after Perry and Dick had drifted down to Mexico, back to the midwest, been seen in Kansas City, and were finally picked up in Las Vegas. The last, even more terrible chapters, deal with their confessions, the law man who wanted to see them hanged, back to back, the trial begun in 1960, the post-ponements of the execution, and finally the walk to "The Corner" and Perry's soft-spoken words—"It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do. I apologize." It's a magnificent job—this American tragedy—with the incomparable Capote touches throughout. There may never have been a perfect crime, but if there ever has been a perfect reconstruction of one, surely this must be it.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 1965

ISBN: 0375507906

Page Count: 343

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1965

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Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

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A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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