THE LYNCHING OF CLEO WRIGHT by Jr. Capeci

THE LYNCHING OF CLEO WRIGHT

KIRKUS REVIEW

A pat, scholarly reconstruction and analysis of the 1942 incident that occasioned the first federal investigation of lynching. Just weeks after America entered WWII, a black oil-mill worker named Cleo Wright assaulted a white woman and a white police officer in Sikeston, Mo., severely injuring both. Wright was seized by an angry mob, dragged across town behind a car, doused with gasoline, and burned alive. Such brazen savagery—at a time when unity against a supposedly barbaric totalitarian enemy was considered a matter of national survival—ignited public censure nationwide (though not, significantly, in Sikeston). It also, Capeci (History/Southwest Missouri State Univ.) notes, raised pressing questions —about personal responsibility and civic duty in a democratic society founded upon law and order.— While Capeci delves into the sociological and psychological roots of Wright’s violent crime and the violent reaction it instigated, he relies too much on the jargon of those disciplines and too little on original interpretation. His most provocative assertion (that the Wright case marked the beginning of a long federal activism that ultimately culminated with the prosecution of the murderers of civil rights workers Schwerner, Cheney, and Goodman in the 1960s) is undercut by a chapter detailing the way in which Wright’s lynching was both demographically divergent from and similar to other Missouri lynchings. That chapter highlights the book’s awkward straddle between a micro-view (which analyzes the lynching as just one of 85 in Missouri between 1889 and 1942) and the macro-view (which posits it as a benchmark of Progressive-era federal activism). Capeci does a service in shining the light of history on the little-known incident that “signaled the beginning of the end of one kind of racial oppression,” but it raises more questions than it answers about the pivotal, lasting impact of Wright’s lynching. (7 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8131-2048-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Univ. Press of Kentucky
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1998




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