A story of racism, injustice, corruption and greed run rampant in 1930s Georgia.
Former Atlanta Journal Constitution editor Beasley (co-author: Inside Coca-Cola: A CEO's Life Story of Building the World's Most Popular Brand, 2011) digs into some shameful events in Georgia’s history, focusing mostly on a judicial system that swiftly arrested, tried, convicted and sent six black men to the electric chair while two white “thrill killers” escaped that fate. The author provides details of the known facts behind their crimes and of the mass execution on the night of Dec. 9, 1938. To add insult to injury, five of the six bodies were not even given burial but were turned over to medical schools as cadavers. The racist bent of all-white Southern juries is a familiar story, but the close ties between the Ku Klux Klan and the state government will perhaps be news. According to Beasley, the Klan infiltrated the state government. E.D. Rivers, governor from 1937 to 1941, had been named a Grand Titan for the state of Georgia by Hiram Wesley Evans, the Klan’s Imperial Wizard. After his inauguration, Rivers gave Evans a monopoly on the state’s asphalt business, a venture that later expanded into other lucrative businesses. Beasley writes that besides handing Evans a “license to print money” at the government’s expense, the corrupt Rivers had his own racket of selling pardons to convicted gangsters, murderers and other criminals. Unfortunately, the author’s account is diffuse and repetitive, losing focus by overly detailing minor characters and wandering off into side issues such as the eugenics movement.
Missing here is the firm hand of an editor that might have shaped a verbose and rather shapeless narrative into a compelling story, for the facts of the matter deserve a better telling.