FIRE IN A CANEBRAKE by Laura Wexler

FIRE IN A CANEBRAKE

The Last Mass Lynching in America
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A freelance journalist unearths new information about an unsolved 1946 quadruple murder.

While working at the University of Georgia student newspaper in 1997, Wexler read a historical account of the shotgun lynching of two black men and two black women in Moore's Ford, Georgia. After stabbing his 29-year-old white landlord, Barnette Hester, 24-year-old African-American Roger Malcom ended up in the local jail. Despite rumblings of a lynching by inflamed whites, Malcom survived the jail stay, returning to the community on bond to await trial when it became clear Hester would survive the seemingly fatal wound. His release re-ignited the racists. Rumors flew that Malcom had been marked for death, and on July 25, 1946, it came—not only to Malcom but also to his wife Dorothy and another young black couple, George and Mae Dorsey. Although state and federal authorities conducted investigations, with President Truman pushing for arrests, the case remained officially unsolved. Wexler wondered whether further examination of the disturbing incident would help her understand more contemporary racial conflicts such as those flowing from the O.J. Simpson murder trial and the altercation involving police and Rodney King. She traveled to Walton and Oconee counties in rural Georgia, where she interviewed more than a hundred people who lived through the 1946 ugliness or possessed secondhand information worth pursuing. She read microfilm. She unearthed documents from investigative agencies. She learned that the case had many truths, some emanating from the white sector of the population, some from the black sector, and some intermingling the accounts tinged by the race of the teller. After years of digging, Wexler concludes that she will never know for sure who killed the Malcoms and the Dorseys, but she believes the story has deep resonances with today’s troubled race relations.

Well-documented, well-written, and endlessly fascinating debut. (b&w photos throughout, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-684-86816-4
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2002




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