Devil's Sanctuary: An Eyewitness History of Mississippi Hate Crimes

Overview

Lynchings, beatings, arson, denial of rights, false imprisonment—the civil rights era brought attention to these heinous offenses that were the status quo for African Americans in many areas of the country. And no state was more notorious as a sanctuary for the murderers and perpetrators of hate crimes than Mississippi. In 1956 state lawmakers installed the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission to preserve segregation and “Mississippi Values” by declaring the state outside the jurisdiction of the federal ...

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Devil's Sanctuary: An Eyewitness History of Mississippi Hate Crimes

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Overview

Lynchings, beatings, arson, denial of rights, false imprisonment—the civil rights era brought attention to these heinous offenses that were the status quo for African Americans in many areas of the country. And no state was more notorious as a sanctuary for the murderers and perpetrators of hate crimes than Mississippi. In 1956 state lawmakers installed the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission to preserve segregation and “Mississippi Values” by declaring the state outside the jurisdiction of the federal government. Under the auspices of the governor and lieutenant governor, the commission joined forces with groups such as the White Citizens’ Councils, which would stop at nothing in their quest for white supremacy.

In Devil’s Sanctuary, Alex A. Alston Jr. and James L. Dickerson, both of whom grew up in small-town Mississippi, recount the state’s shameful racist history and explore how Mississippi was able to get away with its role as a safe haven for the most virulent and violent racists, allowing them immunity from prosecution. The breakdown of institutions, with everyone from judges and elected officials to clergy and the media looking the other way, not only permitted but even encouraged acts so horrendous that many citizens cannot believe they happened—and still could happen—in the United States.

Analysis of the major crimes, the institutional collusion, delayed and never-delivered justice, and the state’s attempts at atonement is interspersed with the authors’ accounts of what they saw, heard, and experienced as whites—thus “insiders”—from that troubled time to the present day. Devil’s Sanctuary is part shocking history and part moving memoir, an eyewitness account of judicial, media, and economic terrorism directed against African Americans.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[A] vivid, often shocking look at the state’s legacy of racism … absorbing."  —Publishers Weekly

"A moving book, part history, part memoir, of a hard time in a cursed land redeemed by small but deeply meaningful acts of courage. These were dark days indeed for Mississippi, but Alston and Dickerson let in the light.”  —Evan Thomas, Newsweek

"An unflinching look at the roots of racism that corrupts the Mississippi government to this day. This compelling book is must reading to understand the primal fears and political manipulation that divide our nation and threaten our founding fathers' basic moral imperative: 'All men are created equal.'"  —Frank Lalli, international editor-in-chief, Reader's Digest

"More than half of Americans living today were born after the tumultuous decade of the 1960s. For them that time of racial hatred, senseless murders and unpunished killers is simply ancient history. Alex Alston and James Dickerson have performed an invaluable service by unearthing the painful truths of those days and portraying them with graphic clarity . . . The result is a courageous, provocative and sobering reminder that evil inevitably flourishes when good men fail to challenge it."  —Parham Williams, dean emeritus, Chapman University School of Law

"I come away from this book feeling optimistic about our future as a people." —Samuel M. Davis, dean and Jamie L. Whitten professor, University of Mississippi School of Law

Publishers Weekly

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)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781556527630
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 7/1/2009
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 971,162
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Alex A. Alston Jr. is a past president of the Mississippi Bar Association who has taught and written extensively on issues of trial advocacy.

James L. Dickerson is a journalist, a social worker, and the author of Goin’ Back to Memphis and That’s Alright, Elvis.

 

They both live in Jackson, Mississippi.

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