The murder of two black couples in Walton County, Georgia, in July of 1946 is a clear example to support the discussion of significant racial tensions typical for the American post-war society. In her book Fire in a Canebrake: The Last Mass Lynching in America, Laura Wexler presents her own vision and analysis of the murder’s aspects and details basing on the years of research.
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Wexler discusses the murder of Roger and Dorothy Malcolm and George and Mae Dorsey in detail, while paying much attention to the causes of the killings, to the racial component, and to the personalities of suspects. Wexler tells the story of the murder as the last lynching of the African Americans in the United States step by step, referring to all possible assumptions and conclusions; and finally, the author states that the story cannot be resolved even today because people are not ready to speak about the racial questions openly.
Thus, hoping to answer the question about the names of persons responsible for committing the murder, Wexler presents the remarkable story which is expanded with the details taken from different reports and interviews. The author pays much attention to discussing the personality of Clinton Adams as the white witness of the murder, analyzes the witness’s words, and focuses on gaps in the provided testimonies.
Then, Wexler focuses on the issues of mass lynchings of African Americans as evidence to speak about the problem of racial discrimination in American society. Finally, Wexler discusses the role of the lynching for developing the Civil Rights Movement and concentrates more on the personality of President Truman as the person who established the important President’s Committee on Civil Rights.
Wexler’s approach to presenting the story is rather strong because the author operates many facts and builds her argument basing on a lot of evidence which are found in newspaper reports, published FBI reports, and legal records. The author conducted many interviews with the persons associated with the murder, and she combined all the materials into the important expanded net in order to draw conclusions about the shocking murder.
The appropriate use of valuable personal information and historic materials found in the Georgia Archives and in the National Archives contributes to the book’s strengths. As a result, the author’s argument about the strong connection of the national and state political issues with the social problems to cause the lynching of the African Americans in 1946 seems to be rather persuasive because it is supported with a lot of concrete and factual evidence.
In spite of the fact that the controversial question of the mass lynching based on the racial problem is discussed in the book openly, Wexler’s contribution to finding the answers to the case questions is also in discussing the personality of Clinton Adams as one witness of the murder and in analyzing his words. Stating that the witness’s words are not credible, Wexler presents a new opinion in relation to the case, and this opinion is based on significant reliable evidence. The combination of credible evidence, thought-provoking assumptions, striking conclusions, and masterful writing style makes the book interesting for many readers.
It is important for readers to pay attention to Wexler’s book while studying the question of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States because this book discusses the beginnings of the movement and provides the causes for its development with references to real facts and historic details. Wexler’s book is important because the reader receives the opportunity to reflect on the problem of mass lynchings of the African Americans in the United States and to focus on the problem of racial tensions not only in general but also in particular while concentrating on the events observed in the rural Georgian territories in 1946.
Thus, Wexler concentrates not only on presenting the concrete data and facts found in historic and legal records but also on interpreting this information to create a vivid picture of the people’s daily activities and living conditions. The focus on the smallest details makes the story interesting for different readers. Furthermore, the insightful discussion of the facts associated with establishing the President’s Committee on Civil Rights provides readers with the opportunity to conclude about the role of race crimes and the Civil Rights Movement in American society.
In her book, Wexler avoids generalizations and stereotypes in order to discuss the murder of four African Americans in Walton County, Georgia, as the statement of the problem important for all the American citizens, in spite of their race. As a result, Wexler chooses to emphasize the unhealthy character of race crimes in American society and pays attention to the importance of resolving the problematic questions connected with mass lynchings. That is why Wexler’s book is an example of the new specific vision of the problem of race crimes in the United States.