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The Murder of Medgar Evers, the Trials of Byron De La Beckwith, and the Haunting of the New South

by Maryanne Vollers

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-316-91485-1
Publisher: Little, Brown

 The third entry in the current ``Evers/Beckwith: What It All Means About the South'' derby, following Adam Nossiter's Of Long History and Reed Massengill's Portrait of a Racist (both 1994). Vollers, a freelance journalist, is a stylish writer and a good researcher. She gets plenty of factual detail and psychological insight into her biographical portraits of the main players: Medgar Evers, the Mississippi civil rights leader murdered in 1963; Byron De La Beckwith, the outspoken racist finally convicted of the murder in 1994 after two earlier mistrials; and others, such as Justice Department attorney John Doar and Hinds County, Miss., investigators Charlie Crisco and Bobby DeLaughter, who unearthed the evidence that brought Beckwith to trial for the third time. Her accounts of all three trials illuminate how the criminal justice system is dependent on the idiosyncrasies of prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys. The opening chapter describing an uninvited visit to Beckwith--high-spirited despite his incarceration, casually spouting racist epithets against Jews as well as blacks--sets the stage nicely, although anyone who has read Nossiter's account of a similar encounter will have a sense of dÇjÖ vu. Vollers slips in only two major respects: She portrays Beckwith as typical of white Southern bigotry, when in fact he was beyond the pale; and she succumbs to the temptation to offer well- worn generalizations about the tormented south that add nothing to our understanding of the case. The last sentence of the book is typical of her overreaching: Afer the trial, ``...what remained was still Mississippi, haunted ground: a place at war with its own history and destined to repeat its past, like a soul being reborn again and again until it gets it right.'' For those who know little about the Evers-Beckwith story, a book worth reading; for those familiar with earlier works or the more than 30 years of media coverage, not much revelatory here.