Rising Road: A True Tale of Love, Race, and Religion in America by Sharon Davies, NOOK Book (eBook) | Barnes & Noble
Rising Road: A True Tale of Love, Race, and Religion in America

Rising Road: A True Tale of Love, Race, and Religion in America

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by Sharon Davies
     
 

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It was among the most notorious criminal cases of its day. On August 11, 1921, in Birmingham, Alabama, a Methodist minister named Edwin Stephenson shot and killed a Catholic priest, James Coyle, in broad daylight and in front of numerous witnesses. The killer's motive? The priest had married Stephenson's eighteen-year-old daughter Ruth to Pedro Gussman, a Puerto Rican

Overview

It was among the most notorious criminal cases of its day. On August 11, 1921, in Birmingham, Alabama, a Methodist minister named Edwin Stephenson shot and killed a Catholic priest, James Coyle, in broad daylight and in front of numerous witnesses. The killer's motive? The priest had married Stephenson's eighteen-year-old daughter Ruth to Pedro Gussman, a Puerto Rican migrant and practicing Catholic. Sharon Davies's Rising Road resurrects the murder of Father Coyle and the trial of his killer. As Davies reveals with novelistic richness, Stephenson's crime laid bare the most potent bigotries of the age: a hatred not only of blacks, but of Catholics and "foreigners" as well. In one of the case's most unexpected turns, the minister hired future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black to lead his defense. Though regarded later in life as a civil rights champion, in 1921 Black was just months away from donning the robes of the Ku Klux Klan, the secret order that financed Stephenson's defense. Entering a plea of temporary insanity, Black defended the minister on claims that the Catholics had robbed Ruth away from her true Protestant faith, and that her Puerto Rican husband was actually black. Placing the story in social and historical context, Davies brings this heinous crime and its aftermath back to life, in a brilliant and engrossing examination of the wages of prejudice and a trial that shook the nation at the height of Jim Crow. "Davies takes us deep into the dark heart of the Jim Crow South, where she uncovers a searing story of love, faith, bigotry and violence. Rising Road is a history so powerful, so compelling it stays with you long after you've finished its final page." --Kevin Boyle, author of the National Book Award-winning Arc of Justice "This gripping history...has all the makings of a Hollywood movie. Drama aside, Rising Road also happens to be a fine work of history." --History News Network

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This is a reverse whodunit: we know who committed the crime but not—though we can guess—whether he’ll be convicted. Since it takes place in 1921 Birmingham, Ala., the story’s likely to involve race, gender relations, family authority, and religion, and not to be pretty. Davies, a professor of law at Ohio State, knows her way through the thickets of criminal proceedings and the ways of adversarial attorneys. She also mines trial transcripts for all they’re worth. One of the defense lawyers is none other than Hugo Black, later a Supreme Court Justice but here a supporter of the Klan, which he would soon join. When all is over, the murderer, a white Protestant, goes free after killing a Catholic priest and expressing, like most in the courtroom, just about every vulgar prejudice of the day. Davies leaves almost no detail unmentioned, when a novelist’s way of letting one fact stand in for many others would have made the story move more quickly. But this is an illustrative tale about its time, well worth the telling. 15 b& photos. (Feb.)
Kirkus Reviews
The story of the murder of a priest in 1920s Alabama, and the sensational trial that followed. On Aug. 11, 1921, Edwin Stephenson, a Methodist minister in Birmingham, Alabama, gunned down James Coyle, a Catholic priest. The reason? The priest had married his 18-year-old daughter, Ruth, to a Puerto Rican migrant named Pedro Gussman. Stephenson was quickly arrested, and the trial, with its racial and religious overtones, made national headlines. Davies (Law/Ohio State Univ.) attempts to rescue the episode from obscurity. At its heart, the story is about the sad consequences of religious intolerance. Anti-Catholic feeling was common in America at the time, particularly in the deep South, where such prejudice was a hallmark of organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan. Stephenson was a longtime member of the Klan, and his daughter's conversion to Catholicism and marriage to a Catholic Puerto Rican drove him to murder. Stephenson's defense attorney, the future U.S. senator and Supreme Court justice Hugo Black, clearly counted on jurors' antipathy toward Catholics as part of his legal strategy, to make them sympathize with his client's weak temporary-insanity defense. Davies digs up some interesting moments-as when Stephenson implores a reporter to "say some little nice things" about him. Unfortunately, the book suffers from a heavy reliance on trial transcripts, and the author's attempts at dramatization are questionable. Though the story is indeed tragic, the takeaway for the reader-that prejudice in the 1920s South led to miscarriages of justice-is hardly a revelation. A diligent but dry attempt to revivify a forgotten legal case.
From the Publisher
"A wonderful reconstruction of an illuminating piece of American legal history. It should appeal not only to scholars of race, gender, and religion in the Jim Crow south but also to anyone who enjoys a dramatic legal yarn." —The Journal of Southern History

"First-rate history. Detailed yet fast-paced, it lays bare the common, deep-rooted bigotry of a region and era that made the jury verdict predictable. Davies' fascinating book is an excellent work of narrative history. Rising Road deserves a wide audience."—Columbus Dispatch

"An illustrative tale about its time, well worth the telling."—Publishers Weekly

"Gripping...a fine work of history [with] notable economy, clarity, and quality research."—Jim Cullen, History News Network

"In this exquisite book, Sharon Davies takes us deep into the dark heart of the Jim Crow South, where she uncovers a searing story of love, faith, bigotry and violence. Rising Road is a history so powerful, so compelling it stays with you long after you've finished its final page."—Kevin Boyle, author of the National Book Award-winning Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age

"A deep knowledge of Southern and legal history, and of the dramatic give-and-take of criminal trials, allows this compelling human story of religion, race and murder to show how the barbarities of 1920s Alabama had played out in families, courts and politics."—David Roediger, Professor of History at University of Illinois and author of How Race Survived U.S. History

"Sharon Davies skillfully traces how an open-and-shut case unraveled. That the outcome seemed foreordained did not inhibit Davies from writing a gripping trial history." - Christian Century

"...capture[s] in rich detail the irrational and complex interplay among race, religion, and "otherness" in the post-World War I Jim Crow South."—The Journal of Southern Religion

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199752492
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
02/16/2010
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

Sharon Davies is the John C. Elam/Vorys Sater Professor of Law at the Ohio State University.

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