An infamous photograph of a 1930 lynching in Marion, Ind., sends the author on a decade-long search for its story and for the role her grandfather might have played.
Former Village Voice arts writer Carr did not see the photograph—or know her grandfather had been a KKK member—until she was an adult. This latter discovery fueled her research and animates this remarkable work from first page to last. She began by establishing a relationship with James Cameron, a black man who’d been miraculously spared what was to have been a triple lynching (mob retribution for a white man’s murder and his girlfriend’s putative rape). When the author began her vast, at times dangerous, research, the elderly Cameron was trying to establish a lynching museum in Milwaukee. Before it was all over (though, as she notes, there is no end), Carr had learned the history of Marion and Grant County; she had done extensive interviews with Indiana KKK leaders—and attended their rallies and listened to endless hours of their bile and bull (some of this material veers near redundancy); she had spoken with those who had witnessed the lynching, those who had seen the two bodies hanging, those who were relatives of victims and lynchers alike. She read local newspapers on countless spools of microfilm, observed the election of Grant County’s first black sheriff, visited and re-visited all relevant sites, investigated her own family history, which includes the possibility of a distant Native American ancestor. She discovers many things on her journey: She learns firsthand of the fallibility of memory, of the enduring power of rumor and legend, of the depth of the current of racism that courses through today’s America. And, most powerfully, she considers the question of the guilt one feels for deeds done—and not done—by beloved relatives. The revelation on her final page is devastating.
An exhaustive, courageous examination of racism’s horrifying but sometimes very familiar face.