A Lynching in the Heartland: Race and Memory in America
Indiana University professor James H. Madison tells the story behind one of America's most infamous photographs: the image of two black teenagers dangling from a tree after a 1930 lynching in Marion, Indiana. The photo, reproduced on the cover, draws its power not only from the dead boys but also from the "shameless faces" of the white onlookers. The lynching itself involved three black teenagers accused of killing a white man and raping a white woman. Two of the alleged perpetrators were dragged from their jail cells shortly after they supposedly confessed to the crimes; the third, James Cameron, survived only because the crowd came to its senses. He was eventually convicted of voluntary manslaughter (but not murder or rape), served his time, went on to lead a productive life, and was pardoned by the governor in 1993. No member of the lynch mob, however, was ever brought to justice--even though their acts were captured on film and witnessed by thousands. There are holes in the story--whether Mary Ball really was raped "will likely never be known," says Madison--but A Lynching in the Heartland succeeds at providing a detailed look at a horrible incident and its aftermath. --John Miller
From Publishers Weekly
The jacket photograph is chilling: the bloody bodies of two African-American young men hang from a tree while a crowd of white men and women mills below, dressed as if attending a parade or political rally, gawking and pointing. In this heartfelt and wide-ranging study of this tragedy, Madison explores the events of August 7, 1930, in the small town of Marion, Ind. The two men along with a third, who narrowly escaped were in jail on charges of murdering a white man and raping a white woman when a white mob stormed the jail and hung the two men from a tree outside the nearby courthouse. But Madison (a historian at Indiana University) moves beyond these stomach-churning facts, scrutinizing racial dynamics in Marion in the decades both before and after the lynching. Race was so etched into the minds of white residents that it even followed heroes into death: on a local memorial for World War I soldiers, the names of two of the dead are followed by "(col.)" for "colored." Madison probes how the lynching became a subtext in later years, including in the integration of the town swimming pool in 1954. Only recently, Madison says, has Marion come to terms with its past: the survivor of the lynching was awarded the keys to the city in 1993, and an African-American was finally elected sheriff in 1998. As passionate as it is disturbing, Madison's book is a dire reminder of the horrors the American heartland held for the dispossessed.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Madison (history, Indiana Univ., Bloomington) examines the story behind a lynching that occurred August 7, 1930, in Marion, IN, and was captured in a photograph showing a large mob of white men and women some smiling for the photographer and all gawking at the suspended corpses of two black men. With community encouragement, the mob had seized three black men who murdered a young white man and raped his girlfriend. The killers hanged Tom Shipp, 19, and Abe Smith, 18, in front of the county courthouse; for unknown reasons, James Cameron, 16, was not lynched. Cameron and most black and white townspeople continually struggled with their memories. Some sought justice, and in the 1990s they met together for remembrance and healing. Through this specific incident, Madison views our history of racial violence. A readable, well-researched history, this volume joins other recent titles (e.g., James Allen and others' Without Sanctuary, LJ 3/1/00) about America's tragic legacy of lynching. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries. Charles L. Lumpkins, Pennsylvania State Univ., State College
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Most helpful customer reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful.
Insightful - great history, both local and national
By A Customer
Little was known on this topic before I bought the book - honestly the cover caught my attention first. The author starts out by telling the gripping and true tale of the lynching of 2 black teenagers in a small Indiana town in 1930. I live near this town and never ever heard of anything ever happening like this. History we are ashamed of apparently gets swept under the rug. This book opened my eyes to race-relations in Indiana and in the northern states during the early 20th's century. It really sets the stage for the Civil Rights acts that follow - and it's is wonderful to understand it from such a local perspective.
This book is not about "lynching". It is about injustice and mob-mentalities, as well as the history of race-relations in the U.S. - from the perspective of a small midwestern town. A town that many people would consider to be a typical place. The history written is non-fiction, although I wish in many ways it were fiction. I find it difficult to grasp that humans act the ways they do, and the author did a fabulous job of remaining objective and explaining the facts in a sleuth-like manner.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful.
Floods of Emotions....
By A Customer
Emotional is an understatment in reading this non-fiction account of a lynching in Marion, Indiana. All kinds of emotions come to mind as I read through it - anger, disbelief, sadness, shame. I think that much of it can be summed up by gazing at the front cover for awhile - the cover photograph is a timeless statement on race-relations in Indiana in the early 20th century.
This work reads like a gripping movie-script, a drama and detective story, where you find heroes abound by their courage to speak up against the actions of the mob who lynched 2 teen-agers on a summer night. But unfortunately this work is not fiction, it is true - from the accounts of what happened in the town the night the boys were suspected of killing a white teen and raping his girlfriend on lovers-lane, to the mob-mentality that eventually took the lives of these two boys. I live near the town where it happened, and I wish it weren't true.
The author did a superb job getting this early 20th century American history to read like something from one's imagination - he is truly gifted as a historical writer - as the words jump off the page as you read, gripping you, entangling you in the tragedy, and making emotions (ones that you probably don't like to express) - flood through you.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful.
Important contribution to the studies of Racism in America
By Grady Harp
James H. Madison has provided us with a book about an incident that no one wants to know about - a bit of ugly history that we would rather not think, much less READ, about. A LYNCHING IN THE HEARTLAND: Race and Memory in America is a brilliant investigation and commentary on the heinous incident on August 7, 1930 in Marion, Indiana. On that quiet night in the quiet heartland of America, far removed from the South with its long-standing history of racial clashes, two African American men were snatched from the jail by white mob frenzy and hung from a tree for the 'dastardly deed' of murder and rape of a white couple. No trial, no conviction, just an acting out of racial hatred, an act captured in the most famous photograph of a lynching in the American context. Madison reports the events factually with a mesmerizingly accurate attention to detail. But the story does not stop there. Madison has researched the history prior to the incident and the subsequent followup that identified brilliant African American leaders and challengers, one of whom was the third man not lynched on that hideous evening in 1930 - James Cameron. Madison then reflects on the whole history of racism in this country, beginning with the equally offensive murders and tortures of the American Indians and extending down to extant incidences up to the time of the publication of this valuable, disturbing book.
Madison repeatedly makes the point that if we don't study our history and vividly recall our past then we are doomed to persist in unjust racial crimes. This is a tough book to swallow, but a very important one for all of us to read. Only by exposing ourselves to the ugly events of our history can we hope to learn and prevent such madness from recurring. An eloquent, vital, and impressive contribution.