He Calls Me By Lightning: The Life of Caliph Washington and the forgotten Saga of Jim Crow, Southern Justice, and the Death Penalty

He Calls Me By Lightning: The Life of Caliph Washington and the forgotten Saga of Jim Crow, Southern Justice, and the Death Penalty

by S Jonathan Bass


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This harrowing portrait of the Jim Crow South “proves how much we do not yet know about our history” (New York Times Book Review).

Caliph Washington didn’t pull the trigger but, as Officer James "Cowboy" Clark lay dying, he had no choice but to turn on his heel and run. The year was 1957; Cowboy Clark was white, Caliph Washington was black, and this was the Jim Crow South.

Widely lauded for its searing “insight into a history of America that can no longer be left unknown” (Washington Post), He Calls Me by Lightning is an “absorbing chronicle” (Ira Katznelson) of the forgotten life of Caliph Washington that becomes an historic portrait of racial injustice in the civil rights era. Washington, a black teenager from the vice-ridden city of Bessemer, Alabama, was wrongfully convicted of killing a white Alabama policeman in 1957 and sentenced to death. Through “meticulous research and vivid prose” (Patrick Phillips), S. Jonathan Bass reveals Washington’s Kafkaesque legal odyssey: he came within minutes of the electric chair nearly a dozen times and had his conviction overturned three times before finally being released in 1972. Devastating and essential, He Calls Me by Lightning demands that we take into account the thousands of lives cast away by the systemic racism of a “social order apparently unchanged even today” (David Levering Lewis).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631494529
Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publication date: 08/07/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 325,564
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

S. Jonathan Bass is a professor at
Alabama’s Samford University and the author of Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Martin Luther
King, Jr., Eight White Religious Leaders, and the “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” He lives in
Birmingham, Alabama.

Table of Contents

Preface xi

1 Steal Away 1

2 A Hell of a Place 15

3 "These White Folks Will Kill You". 29

4 "In Bessemer, Anything Can Happen" 51

5 A "Well Bound Book" 71

6 "Because It Was Self-Defense" 91

7 A Violent and Accidental Death 107

8 "There Are Lots of Ways to Fight" 121

9 "I Just Say I Am Innocent" 137

10 "You Belong to the State of Alabama" 149

11 "Please Spare My Life" 163

12 Called by Lightning 183

13 A Thunderous Arrival 201

14 Whereabouts Unknown 217

15 Sinners to Convert 235

16 Segregation's Last Stand 253

17 "Sojourn in the Shadow of Death" 269

18 "In a Wasted Land of No Want" 285

19 "He Still Ain't Dead" 307

20 "Set Me Free Dear Jesus" 329

Conclusion The Salvation Club 345

Note on Sources 357

Bibliography 361

Acknowledgments 387

Credits 391

Index 395

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