The brutal lynching of two young black men in Marion, Indiana, on August 7, 1930, cast a shadow over the town that still lingers. It is only one event in the long and complicated history of race relations in Marion, a history much ignored and considered by many to be best forgotten. But the lynching cannot be forgotten. It is too much a part of the fabric of Marion, too much ingrained even now in the minds of those who live there. In Our Town journalist Cynthia Carr explores the issues of race, loyalty, and memory in America through the lens of a specific hate crime that occurred in Marion but could have happened anywhere.
Marion is our town, America’s town, and its legacy is our legacy.
Like everyone in Marion, Carr knew the basic details of the lynching even as a child: three black men were arrested for attempted murder and rape, and two of them were hanged in the courthouse square, a fate the third miraculously escaped. Meeting James Cameron–the man who’d survived–led her to examine how the quiet Midwestern town she loved could harbor such dark secrets. Spurred by the realization that, like her, millions of white Americans are intimately connected to this hidden history, Carr began an investigation into the events of that night, racism in Marion, the presence of the Ku Klux Klan–past and present–in Indiana, and her own grandfather’s involvement. She uncovered a pattern of white guilt and indifference, of black anger and fear that are the hallmark of race relations across the country.
In a sweeping narrative that takes her from the angry energy of a white supremacist rally to the peaceful fields of Weaver–once an all-black settlement neighboring Marion–in search of the good and the bad in the story of race in America, Carr returns to her roots to seek out the fascinating people and places that have shaped the town. Her intensely compelling account of the Marion lynching and of her own family’s secrets offers a fresh examination of the complex legacy of whiteness in America. Part mystery, part history, part true crime saga, Our Town is a riveting read that lays bare a raw and little-chronicled facet of our national memory and provides a starting point toward reconciliation with the past.
On August 7, 1930, three black teenagers were dragged from their jail cells in Marion, Indiana, and beaten before a howling mob. Two of them were hanged; by fate the third escaped. A photo taken that night shows the bodies hanging from the tree but focuses on the faces in the crowd—some enraged, some laughing, and some subdued, perhaps already feeling the first pangs of regret.
Sixty-three years later, journalist Cynthia Carr began searching the photo for her grandfather’s face.
Former Village Voice arts writer Carr has crafted a searing look at race in America that combines investigative journalism with an intensely personal family history. She uses the 1930 lynching of two African-American men in Marion, Ind., where her father and grandfather grew up, as a prism to examine not only the psychology of the lynch mob members but the thousands of bystanders, some of whom were immortalized in a revolting and haunting photograph, which shows townspeople gathering to stare at the mutilated corpses, still dangling from their nooses. Carr's discovery that her beloved grandfather belonged to the Ku Klux Klan and may have been involved in the hate crime leads her to return to Marion and ask questions that many on both sides of the racial divide find uncomfortable. Carr's sense that she bears that we all bear a burden of guilt allows her an empathy that enables her to gain access to present-day Klan members, who talk freely about their ideology; her refusal to view herself as morally superior to them lends power to her observations, and her lack of self-righteousness is refreshing. This outstanding narrative is an excellent companion to last year's Blood Done Sign My Name and Arc of Justice, which also used a crime as an entry point into the struggle for civil rights. With the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe reviving the debate on the state of race relations in this country, this book will have an extra topicality in addition to its narrative power that should deservedly attract a wide audience. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.