Praise for A Death in Texas:
"Temple-Raston has created an intense and beautifully crafted narrative that achieves something rare in journalism: a sober account that does not stop at the psychology of the killers but carefully considers the historical and social context of the murder."--The Philadelphia Inquirer
"A Death in Texas is likely to be a classic, unforgettably chilling and precise. This is a book that leaves fingerprints on the mind."Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman
"Gripping and finely crafted . . . a powerful and important book, one that poses tough questions about whether America can ever suture the rift between its races."The Denver Post
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In the summer of 1998, Americans were addicted to their daily dose of news about the president and a young Washington intern, when suddenly a very different news story penetrated their consciousness. In a small town in Texas, a 49-year-old black man was chained to a truck and dragged to his death by three white men. Almost overnight, we became familiar with the terms "Jasper, Texas," and "James Byrd Jr." And we wondered how such a vicious, gruesome act could occur in a civilized world.
Dina Temple-Raston aims to answer this question in her hard-hitting and compelling account. Beginning with the first portentous phone call to the local sheriff soon after Byrd's body was discovered, Temple-Raston takes a closer look at the underpinnings of this community steeped in "antebellum traditions." It's a community, she says, where white employers viewed their black workers "on the level of a favorite domesticated animal." Clearly, and with riveting detail, she recounts the murder and subsequent trials of the three assailants, introducing readers to a range of complex characters. With a straightforwardness that begs comparison to Truman Capote's classic murder chronicle In Cold Blood, Temple-Raston explores one of
the most horrific -- and most significant -- moments in recent American history.
(Winter 2002 Selection)
. . . likely to be a classic, unforgettably chilling and precise. This is a book that leaves fingerprints on the mind.
This perceptive, grimly compelling account of the brutal 1998 murder of James Byrd in Jasper, Tex., is the first book on this nationally reported incident and a fine piece of journalistic reporting, covering the prosecution of Byrd's killers and the social and political aftermath for Jasper. On June 7, 1998, Byrd, a 49-year-old black man, was intentionally dragged behind a truck in such a way that his head and right arm were severed. Three white men were quickly arrested;. two were eventually sentenced to death and one to life imprisonment. Temple-Raston, a former foreign correspondent, uses this basic crime narrative as the backdrop for a complex, multilayered portrait of a small town coming to grips with its own history of racial hatred while simultaneously being thrust into the national limelight. Temple-Raston has a fine eye for detail: she documents how the town's lumber industry had historically abused black labor and mutilated black male bodies. Elsewhere, she presents the father of one of the killers remembering his brother's 1939 trial and acquittal for the murder of a gay man. And she captures the hysteria and fear that grip the town's population in the aftermath: the black community wonders what they might have done to prevent this; a policeman complains that Byrd was "the town drunk." Unsparing in her examination of the race hatred that led to the crime-two of the men were members of "Christian Identity" white supremacist groups-Temple-Raston is extraordinarily nuanced in exploring how poor, white men (often in prison) are drawn to this horrific ideology. Through a plethora of telling moments here, Temple-Raston painfully explores and exposes the lives of her subjects and the complications of hate and prejudice in the U.S. (Jan.)
We'll probably always remember the 1998 murder of James Byrd, even if we forget his name. An African-American man was chained to the bumper of a truck and dragged three miles down a paved road to his death. The focus of this skillfully written book is the economically depressed East Texas town of Jasper, the place that spawned the horror, and the community struggling to move ahead. The author recounts how outsiders flooded Jasper after the murder. During one melee, a militant from Houston was "being filmed by a Klansman who was being filmed by police, all of whom were being filmed by the media." We're lucky that Temple-Raston stayed around long enough to write this fascinating book.
Temple-Raston, a USA Today correspondent, investigates the dragging murder of James Byrd Jr. and its aftermath for a small Texas town. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
A grimly powerful chronicle of a hate crime, the grisly murder of James Byrd Jr., and the soul-searching that resulted for the residents of Jasper, Texas. Long past its prime as a prosperous lumbering town, Jasper had become by June 7, 1998, "a place where most people stopped just long enough to lick a postage stamp." Despite a recently elected black mayor, its African-American community felt economically disenfranchised. These economic and racial tensions rose to the surface when news spread that the 49-year-old Byrd had been beaten, chained to a pickup, and dragged several miles. The killers were quickly identified: Bill King, a local resident sporting white supremacist tattoos; Russell Brewer, King's prison buddy; and Shawn Berry, manager of the local movie theater. Relying on extensive interviews and local historical research, USA Today correspondent Temple-Raston examines not only the investigation and trial, but also the reactions of a town facing hordes of unwelcome politicians and reporters. She effectively sketches individuals from all parts of the community: the killers, a funeral director, King's anguished father, an octogenarian attorney who had represented Jack Ruby, the town prosecutor, and, most of all, Sheriff Billy Rowles, the de facto moral center of this story. Hoping to preserve the town's reputation, blacks and whites presented a united front before the world. Scene by scene, the author shows the two races sharing equal time at press conferences, heading off a confrontation between Ku Klux Klan members and black separatists, and tearing down the fence separating white and black sections of a cemetery. But after the guilty were sentenced and apologies forracism were made, life in Jasper assumed much of its old pattern. One of the final searing images here is of high school students, the day after the King trial, segregating themselves by race for an assembly celebrating Black History Month. Not just a painstaking anatomy of a murder, but of the intractable difficulties in resolving America's ongoing racial dilemma.