On that July evening in 1946, the leader counted aloud and the mob of white men fired. Seconds later, the leader counted again, "One, two, three," and the mob fired once more. After the third and final volley of gunshots, the white men got into their cars and drove off, leaving the bullet-ridden bodies of two young black men and two young black women lying in the dirt near Moore's Ford Bridge in rural Walton County, Georgia. Since that summer evening, there have never been as many victims lynched in a single day in America.
Now, more than a half century later, Laura Wexler offers the first full account of the Moore's Ford lynching, a murder so brutal it stunned the nation and motivated President Harry Truman to put civil rights at the forefront of his national agenda. With the style of a novelist, the authority of a historian, and the tenacity of a journalist, Wexler recounts the lynching and the resulting four-month FBI investigation. Drawing from interviews, archival sources, and an uncensored FBI report, she takes us deep into the landscape of 1946 Georgia, creating unforgettable portraits of sharecroppers, sheriffs, bootleggers, the victims, and the men who may have killed them.
Fire in a Canebrake pursues the legacy of the Moore's Ford lynching into the present, exploring the conflicting memories of Walton County's black and white citizens and examining the testimony of a white man who claims he was a secret witness to the crime. In 2001, the governor of Georgia issued a new reward for information leading to the arrest of the lynchers. Several suspects named in the FBI's 1946 investigation are still alive, and there is no statute of limitations on the crime of murder.
Fire in a Canebrake -- a phrase local people used to describe the sound of the fatal gunshots -- is a moving and often frightening tale of violence, sex, and lies. It is also a disturbing snapshot of a divided nation on the brink of the civil rights movement and a haunting meditation on race, history, and the struggle for truth.
Following a spate of excellent books on lynching Without Sanctuary; At the Hands of Persons Unknown; A Lynching in the Heartland comes this account of the murder of two black couples in Walton County, Ga., in July 1946. According to journalist Wexler, the murders of Roger and Dorothy Malcolm and George and Mae Dorsey were the last of more than 3,000 mob lynchings of African-Americans in the United States. Following clues from published newspaper reports, FBI and legal records, and interviews conducted in 1997 with the participants who were still alive, Wexler plots a dramatic narrative involving sex, jealousy and violence, with a surprise witness to the murders who surfaces in 1991 (43 years after the killings) claiming to have lived on the run from the Klan because of what he knew. But while Wexler's sense of pacing and denouement is rousing, and her intricate, careful portrayal of the social settings and racial imaginations of the post-WWII South are just as startling. The region was rife with a new sort of racial tension spurred by the demand for basic civil rights (particularly by returning black soldiers) to the point that, under direct orders of President Truman (who was under pressure from the NAACP and the Northern press), the FBI became involved in a lynching for the first time. Smart and highly readable, if much less broad than other recent books, Wexler's account uncovers compelling personal and historic material in equal measure.