Fire in a Canebrake: The Last Mass Lynching in America

Fire in a Canebrake: The Last Mass Lynching in America<br> By Laura Wexler | Scribner. $24.

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


We like to think of lynching as a relic. Captured in grim, sepia-toned snapshots, the bodies dangling from trees and bridges appear decidedly premodern — etched, unmoving evidence of someone else’ s hatred. But on July 25, 1946, at the dawn of baby boom America, a vengeful white mob in Walton County, Georgia, murdered two young black couples. It may have been America’ s “last mass lynching,” but the crime’ s legacy remains very much alive.

Journalist Laura Wexler confesses that she’ d hoped to solve this still-open case — the brutality of which spurred the Truman administration to inaugurate a federal commission on civil rights. But the rural Georgia she negotiates — culturally segregated and premised upon an economy of mutual fear — is not so different from the one the FBI struggled with in its initial inquiry.

Through archival reports and Þrsthand interviews, Wexler offers fresh insights into the histories of the victims and suspects in the crime. But in the end, whether out of stubbornness, resignation, or fear, no one seems much inclined to set the record straight. Those closest to the murders haven’ t spoken for decades — and in those who haven’ t already died, the truth most certainly has.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest