HANGING BRIDGE by Jason Morgan Ward


Racial Violence and America's Civil Rights Century
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History of the most notorious sites in Mississippi for white-on-black violence, from 1918 to 1966.

A place of enormous symbolic power, the Shubuta bridge over the Chickasawhay River, in Clarke County, Mississippi, became the most heinous “monument to Jim Crow,” the site of numerous lynchings of African-Americans by white mobs. In this painstaking study spanning decades, Ward (History/Mississippi State Univ., Defending White Democracy: The Making of a Segregationist Movement and the Remaking of Racial Politics, 1936-1965, 2011, etc.) delves into the specifics of the gruesome crimes and the crusading work by journalists and NAACP activists like Walter F. White to expose the lynchings in the South. Waves of violence between the white supremacists and the black Mississippians who had seen their promise of freedom betrayed after Reconstruction broke out during moments of crisis, as Ward notes, especially following three eras of global war. The first, in 1918, a quadruple hanging of two brothers and two sisters (both pregnant) from the bridge, followed the murder of the young women’s boss as an attempt at protecting their honor. White, a black man who could pass for white, went undercover in Shubuta to expose the lynchings, but he was unable to publish the terrible details in mainstream magazines. In October 1942, the bridge was again the site of a lynching, this time of two teenage boys. Ward sees the violence as a reflection of white wartime anxiety over the fear of losing control of black workers, who were fleeing to the North. The Mississippi violence prompted renewed attempts at anti-lynching legislation in Congress. Finally, in 1966, after successive civil rights bills, the small but growing presence of the NAACP in Clarke County helped crack the widespread fear of registering to vote “or joining up with anything smacking of civil rights.”

A thoughtful historical study of the entrenched symbolism of a dreaded bridge in Mississippi, a landmark that “fixed attention on Jim Crow’s brutal excesses and unresolved legacies.”

Pub Date: May 2nd, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-19-937656-8
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2016


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