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Devil's Sanctuary : An Eyewitness History of Mississippi Hate Crimes
Recalling the state's shameful racist history of lynching, arson, denial of rights, false imprisonment, and other heinous crimes, this riveting narrative explores how Mississippi became a safe haven for the most violent and virulent racists, who were immune to prosecution for their crimes. This sanctuary of the then status quo emerged from the 1956 Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission's efforts to preserve segregation and "Mississippi Values" by declaring the state outside the jurisdiction of the federal government. Analysis of the major crimes, the institutional collusion, delayed and never-delivered justice, and the state's attempts at atonement are interspersed with the authors' recollections of what they saw, heard, and experienced as whites--thus "insiders"--during this troubled time. With commentary extending to the present day, this is both a well-researched history and an eyewitness record of living through an era of judicial, media, and economic terrorism directed against African Americans.
Mississippi State history mixes with the authors' personal memories in this vivid, often shocking look at the state's legacy of racism. Focusing on several of the most notorious racial incidents of the 1950s and '60s, including the violent opposition to the integration of the University of Mississippi; the murder of Mississippi's first NAACP field secretary, Medgar Evers; and the murders of civil rights activists Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney, the book examines the complicity--and, just as often, outright support and collaboration--of the state's media, legal system and clergy in upholding a racial system that the authors persuasively refer to as state-sponsored terror. Alston Jr., a former president of the Mississippi Bar Association, and Dickerson (Goin' Back to Memphis) describe the activities of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, a quasi-independent spy agency created in 1956 to monitor and intimidate supporters of civil rights and to protect Mississippi against integration efforts by the federal government. This thorough, absorbing overview of Mississippi's racist past is only impeded when the authors linger too long over irrelevant personal or professional history. (July)
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Lawrence Hill Books
June 30, 2009
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