New Nonfiction: The Lynching – Laurence Leamer

Journalist Leamer rivetingly recounts what is perhaps the last great battle of the original Civil Rights Era. In 1981 Alabama two white Klansman beat to death and hung a young black man in retaliation for a jury verdict that found an unrelated black man innocent of the murder of a white man. While one of the men was convicted of murder, Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, brought a civil suit against the 100-year-old Klan for conspiracy, effectively putting the whole organization on trial. His eventual win struck a critical blow against the strength and legitimacy of this racist hate group.

This courtroom drama has all the propulsive suspense of a Grisham novel. Highly recommended for readers of modern American history and as compelling today as it was 35 years ago.

A powerful account of how a Ku Klux Klan-sanctioned lynching in Mobile, Alabama, paved the way for legal victories against such hate groups….Southern Poverty Law Center founder Morris Dees…represented [the murdered man’s] family in a civil action against the United Klans of America, whose leaders first regarded it as ‘an aggravating, foolish lawsuit.’….Leamer develops incremental, disturbing portraits of the Klansmen, terming them ‘less a militant militia of white supremacist storm troopers than…a motley, disparate assembly of marginal men.’ Concluding with a well-paced courtroom drama, the author captures the climactic improbability of Dees’ success, which bankrupted the UKA. Leamer confidently untangles the legal and social aspects of the story, showing how the South has grappled with the horrific legacy Donald’s murder represents. An engrossing true-crime narrative and a pertinent reminder of the consequences of organized hatred. “
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“[Leamer] swiftly traces the entwined lives of three Alabama men—civil rights lawyer Morris Dees, Gov. George Wallace, and top Klansman Robert Shelton—during and following the civil rights movement….As a student, Dees worked for Wallace’s gubernatorial campaign and had even defended a Klansman in court. By the time he files a civil lawsuit against Shelton and the UKA over Donald’s death, intending to bankrupt the organization, Dees is a changed man. Leamer’s slice of American civil rights history prefers courtrooms and the Capitol to churches and the streets, with Dees—a cunning and tenacious lawyer doing dangerously unpopular work—playing hero. This well-written, suspense-filled book vividly evokes themes from the ugly, not-so-distant past.”
—  Publishers Weekly

“Morris Dees walks tall in American history. For decades, he has fearlessly demolished White Supremacist hate groups with his legal cunning. Laurence Leamer does a wonderful job in The Lynching describing how Dees put the KKK out of business. This legal thriller is destined to become a major motion picture. Highly recommended.”
— Douglas Brinkley

The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle That Brought Down the Klan (9780062458346) by Laurence Leamer. $27.99 hardcover. 6/7/16 on sale.

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