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Snow-Storm in August: The Struggle for American Freedom and Washington's Race Riot of 1835by Jefferson Morley
Synopses & Reviews
A gripping narrative history of the explosive events that drew together Francis Scott Key, Andrew Jackson, and an 18-year-old slave on trial for attempted murder.
In 1835, the city of Washington pulsed with change. As newly freed African Americans from the South poured in, free blacks outnumbered slaves for the first time. Radical notions of abolishing slavery circulated on the city's streets, and white residents were forced to confront new ideas of what the nation's future might look like.
On the night of August 4th, Arthur Bowen, an eighteen-year-old slave, stumbled into the bedroom where his owner, Anna Thornton, slept. He had an ax in the crook of his arm. An alarm was raised, and he ran away. Word of the incident spread rapidly, and within days, Washington's first race riot exploded, as whites fearing a slave rebellion attacked the property of the free blacks. Residents dubbed the event the “Snow-Storm," in reference to the central role of Beverly Snow, a flamboyant former slave turned successful restaurateur, who became the target of the mob's rage.
In the wake of the riot came two sensational criminal trials that gripped the city. Prosecuting both cases was none other than Francis Scott Key, a politically ambitious attorney famous for writing the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” who few now remember served as the city's district attorney for eight years. Key defended slavery until the twilight's last gleaming, and pandered to racial fears by seeking capital punishment for Arthur Bowen. But in a surprise twist his prosecution was thwarted by Arthur's ostensible victim, Anna Thornton, a respected socialite who sought the help of President Andrew Jackson.
Ranging beyond the familiar confines of the White House and the Capitol, Snow-Storm in August delivers readers into an unknown chapter of American history with a textured and absorbing account of the racial secrets and contradictions that coursed beneath the freewheeling capital of a rising world power.
"Snow-Storm in August is the sort of book I most love to read: history so fresh it feels alive, yet introducing me to a time and place that I had little known or utterly misunderstood. After reading Jefferson Morley's vibrant account, one can never hear 'The Star-Spangled Banner' the same way again."
—David Maraniss, author of Barack Obama: The Story
From the Hardcover edition.
In 1835, the city of Washington simmered with racial tension as newly freed African Americans from the South poured in, outnumbering slaves for the first time. Among the enslaved was nineteen-year-old Arthur Bowen, who stumbled home drunkenly one night, picked up an axe, and threatened his owner, respected socialite Anna Thornton. Despite no blood being shed, Bowen was eventually arrested and tried for attempted murder by district attorney Francis Scott Key, but not before news of the incident spread like wildfire. Within days Washington’s first race riot exploded as whites, fearing a slave rebellion, attacked the property of free blacks. One of their victims was gregarious former slave and successful restaurateur Beverly Snow, who became the target of the mob’s rage. With Snow-Storm in August, Jefferson Morley delivers readers into an unknown chapter in history with an absorbing account of this uniquely American battle for justice.
About the Author
JEFFERSON MORLEY is the Washington correspondent for Salon. He has worked as an editor and reporter at The Washington Post, The Nation, The New Republic, and Harper’s Magazine. His work has appeared in The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World, Reader’s Digest, Rolling Stone, and Slate. His first book was Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA.
From the Hardcover edition.
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