Race against time A reporter reopens the unsolved murder cases of the civil rights era

Jerry Mitchell

Book - 2020

"An award-winning investigative reporter shares the real-life detective story of how Klansmen came to justice in notorious unsolved civil rights cold cases--decades after they had gotten away with murder"--

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Subjects
Genres
True crime stories
Published
New York : Simon & Schuster 2020.
Edition
First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition
Language
English
Physical Description
421 pages ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages [395]-407) and index.
ISBN
9781451645132
1451645139
9781451645149
1451645147
Main Author
Jerry Mitchell (author)
  • James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner
  • Medgar Evers
  • Vernon Dahmer Sr.
  • Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley
  • James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Award-winning journalist Mitchell began working for Mississippi's statewide newspaper The Clarion-Ledger in 1986 as the "lowliest of reporters. After a screening of Mississippi Burning, the 1988 film about the murders of three civil rights workers, he gets a tip that there was more to the story and that many of the responsible parties were free, living in Mississippi, and likely still active in the KKK. This starts Mitchell down a road of looking into some of the highest-profile crimes of the Civil Rights era. Starting with his own investigative work, he helps to reopen the murder cases of Medgar Evers and Vernon Dahmer; the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in which four girls died; and, 20 years later, the Mississippi Burning case. Mitchell's straightforward style suits the stories perfectly: neither the families' continued heartache nor the hate of those on trial need be embellished to be affecting. While the cases themselves are drawn out over many years, the reading, especially the extensive courtroom scenes, is riveting. A great readalike for Kevin Boyle's Arc of Justice (2004), this is both an important Civil Rights document and a timely read in the wake of the recent rise of hate crimes. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Award-winning journalist Mitchell began working for Mississippi's statewide newspaper The Clarion-Ledger in 1986 as the "lowliest of reporters. After a screening of Mississippi Burning, the 1988 film about the murders of three civil rights workers, he gets a tip that there was more to the story and that many of the responsible parties were free, living in Mississippi, and likely still active in the KKK. This starts Mitchell down a road of looking into some of the highest-profile crimes of the Civil Rights era. Starting with his own investigative work, he helps to reopen the murder cases of Medgar Evers and Vernon Dahmer; the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in which four girls died; and, 20 years later, the Mississippi Burning case. Mitchell's straightforward style suits the stories perfectly: neither the families' continued heartache nor the hate of those on trial need be embellished to be affecting. While the cases themselves are drawn out over many years, the reading, especially the extensive courtroom scenes, is riveting. A great readalike for Kevin Boyle's Arc of Justice (2004), this is both an important Civil Rights document and a timely read in the wake of the recent rise of hate crimes. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

Mitchell, the founder of the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and a former reporter for the Clarion-Herald in Jackson, Mississippi, here examines several well-known unsolved murder cases from the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Exhaustively researched, Mitchell's narrative offers a glimpse into the intricacies of investigative reporting, as well as the complexities of life in a state infamously shaped by white supremacy. The cases Mitchell investigated include the murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, and the assassination of Medgar Evers, the first field secretary for the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP. The author builds on the scholarly foundation of monographs such as John Dittmer's Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (CH, Dec'94, 32-2338) and other studies of the Civil Rights Movement and the history of white supremacy and its ideology, For those interested in delving deeper into Mississippi's Freedom Summer (an effort to register more African American voters in 1960s Mississippi), the Civil Rights Movement in general, or the role of the press in either context, there is a well-rounded bibliography. The author's style is approachable compared to more academic tomes. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels.--L. A. Cowles, Nicholls State UniversityLynn A. CowlesNicholls State University Lynn A. Cowles Choice Reviews 58:03 November 2020 Copyright 2020 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Founder of the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, multi-award-winning journalist Mitchell was crucial to the closure of the Mississippi Burning case, helping bring to justice the instigator in the June 1964 murder of three civil rights workers four-plus decades after the event. Here he chronicles his success in reopening that case, and three others in "a race against time": the assassination of Medgar Evers, the firebombing of Vernon Dahmer, and the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham. With a 150,000-copy first printing. Copyright 2019 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

As reporter for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, MS, from the 1980s through the 2010s, Mitchell's investigative reporting led to the reopening of some of the most notorious murder cases of the civil rights era, including new trials in Mississippi for the murders of Medgar Evers and Vernon Dahmer, and in Alabama for the victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. This memoir, with Mitchell often at the center of the story, covers the cases he investigated, each one ultimately leading to the long overdue conviction of the murderers. Mitchell is skilled at interviewing suspects and their accomplices, and the book includes chilling profiles of unrepentant Ku Klux Klan members. In looking back at each case, Michell demonstrates the ways that politicians and judges influenced the outcome of the original trials, and reminds us that the pursuit of justice has always been a political act. VERDICT While there are many other books that discuss these cases, Mitchell's active participation in the investigations provides a unique perspective. Recommended for readers interested in civil rights-era American history and legal nonfiction.—Nicholas Graham, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

In 1989, investigative reporter Mitchell, as he mentions at the start of his superb first book, covered the premier of Mississippi Burning in Jackson, Miss. The film, about the murder of three civil rights workers in 1964, inspired him to write articles about those and three other civil rights murder cases. In the case of three civil rights workers depicted in the movie, Mitchell found that evidence was destroyed and state records sealed for 50 years. Still, he was able to provide new facts that finally put killer Edgar Ray Killen in prison four decades after the murders. He was also responsible for getting the cases of Medgar Evers, Vernon Dahmer, and the four African-American girls who died in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., reopened. All ended in convictions of Ku Klux Klan members. Under death threats, he raced against time to interview witnesses before they died and bring justice to families who had been denied it. As Mitchell points out in the epilogue, the fight for the truth continues with the recent rise of hate crimes in this country. This thrilling true crime account deserves a wide audience. Agent: David Black, David Black Agency. (Feb.) Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"An award-winning investigative reporter shares the real-life detective story of how Klansmen came to justice in notorious unsolved civil rights cold cases--decades after they had gotten away with murder"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

An award-winning investigative journalist recounts the 1964 “Mississippi Burning” murders of three civil rights workers by the KKK, describing his role in reopening the case and bringing its mastermind and participating Klansmen to justice. 150,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

'For almost two decades, investigative journalist Jerry Mitchell doggedly pursued the Klansmen responsible for some of the most notorious murders of the civil rights movement. This book is his amazing story. Thanks to him, and to courageous prosecutors, witnesses, and FBI agents, justice finally prevailed.' 'John Grisham, author of The GuardiansOn June 21, 1964, more than twenty Klansmen murdered three civil rights workers. The killings, in what would become known as the 'mississippi Burning' case, were among the most brazen acts of violence during the civil rights movement. And even though the killers' identities, including the sheriff's deputy, were an open secret, no one was charged with murder in the months and years that followed.It took forty-one years before the mastermind was brought to trial and finally convicted for the three innocent lives he took. If there is one man who helped pave the way for justice, it is investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell.In Race Against Time, Mitchell takes readers on the twisting, pulse-racing road that led to the reopening of four of the most infamous killings from the days of the civil rights movement, decades after the fact. His work played a central role in bringing killers to justice for the assassination of Medgar Evers, the firebombing of Vernon Dahmer, the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham and the Mississippi Burning case. Mitchell reveals how he unearthed secret documents, found long-lost suspects and witnesses, building up evidence strong enough to take on the Klan. He takes us into every harrowing scene along the way, as when Mitchell goes into the lion's den, meeting one-on-one with the very murderers he is seeking to catch. His efforts have put four leading Klansmen behind bars, years after they thought they had gotten away with murder.Race Against Time is an astonishing, courageous story capturing a historic race for justice, as the past is uncovered, clue by clue, and long-ignored evils are brought into the light. This is a landmark book and essential reading for all Americans.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

“For almost two decades, investigative journalist Jerry Mitchell doggedly pursued the Klansmen responsible for some of the most notorious murders of the civil rights movement. This book is his amazing story. Thanks to him, and to courageous prosecutors, witnesses, and FBI agents, justice finally prevailed.” —John Grisham, author of The GuardiansOn June 21, 1964, more than twenty Klansmen murdered three civil rights workers. The killings, in what would become known as the “Mississippi Burning” case, were among the most brazen acts of violence during the civil rights movement. And even though the killers’ identities, including the sheriff’s deputy, were an open secret, no one was charged with murder in the months and years that followed.It took forty-one years before the mastermind was brought to trial and finally convicted for the three innocent lives he took. If there is one man who helped pave the way for justice, it is investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell.In Race Against Time, Mitchell takes readers on the twisting, pulse-racing road that led to the reopening of four of the most infamous killings from the days of the civil rights movement, decades after the fact. His work played a central role in bringing killers to justice for the assassination of Medgar Evers, the firebombing of Vernon Dahmer, the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham and the Mississippi Burning case. Mitchell reveals how he unearthed secret documents, found long-lost suspects and witnesses, building up evidence strong enough to take on the Klan. He takes us into every harrowing scene along the way, as when Mitchell goes into the lion’s den, meeting one-on-one with the very murderers he is seeking to catch. His efforts have put four leading Klansmen behind bars, years after they thought they had gotten away with murder.Race Against Time is an astonishing, courageous story capturing a historic race for justice, as the past is uncovered, clue by clue, and long-ignored evils are brought into the light. This is a landmark book and essential reading for all Americans.