Synopses & Reviews
On February 25, 1946, African Americans in Columbia, Tennessee, averted the lynching of James Stephenson, a nineteen-year-old, black Navy veteran accused of attacking a white radio repairman at a local department store. That night, after Stephenson was safely out of town, four of Columbia's police officers were shot and wounded when they tried to enter the town's black business district. The next morning, the Tennessee Highway Patrol invaded the district, wrecking establishments and beating men as they arrested them. By day's end, more than one hundred African Americans had been jailed. Two days later, highway patrolmen killed two of the arrestees while they were awaiting release from jail.
Drawing on oral interviews and a rich array of written sources, Gail Williams O'Brien tells the dramatic story of the Columbia "race riot," the national attention it drew, and its surprising legal aftermath. In the process, she illuminates the effects of World War II on race relations and the criminal justice system in the United States. O'Brien argues that the Columbia events are emblematic of a nationwide shift during the 1940s from mob violence against African Americans to increased confrontations between blacks and the police and courts. As such, they reveal the history behind such contemporary conflicts as the Rodney King and O. J. Simpson cases.
[An] exemplary book.
Journal of American History
Well-written, well-researched, and extremely thought-provoking.
American Historical Review
[A] model of careful and courageous scholarship and should be standard reading for students of law and justice .
Law and Politics Book Review
O'Brien's readable and well-researched account of an extraordinary story makes innovative contributions to the growing literature on American violence.
Times Literary Supplement
Exploring the famous 1956 race riot in Columbia, Tennessee, this book reveals the roots of black distrust and conflict with the criminal justice system. The Columbia events are viewed as emblematic of the nation•s postwar shift from mob violence against blacks to increased confrontations between blacks and the police and the courts.
A deeply textured book about the so-called race riot provoked by a white mob's attempt to lynch a young black World War II veteran.
Journal of Southern History [An] exemplary book.
Journal of American History Well-written, well-researched, and extremely thought-provoking.
American Historical Review [A] model of careful and courageous scholarship and should be standard reading for students of law and justice .
Law and Politics Book Review O'Brien's readable and well-researched account of an extraordinary story makes innovative contributions to the growing literature on American violence.
Times Literary Supplement
About the Author
Gail Williams O'Brien is professor of history and associate dean for graduate studies, planning, and faculty affairs in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
Table of Contents
1. The Columbia Story
Part I. Racial Violence
2. The Bottom and Its Brokers
3. War, Esteem, Efficacy, and Entitlement
4. The Making and Unmaking of Mobocracy
Part II. Racial Justice
5. The Politics of Policing
6. Grand (Jury) Maneuvers and the Politics of Exclusion
7. Outsiders and the Politics of Justice
Map of downtown Columbia, Tennessee
Whites gathered in Columbia on February 25
State guardsman turns back mob
Hollis Reynolds after his seizure by highway patrolmen
John Blackwell after beating
Black Columbians being marched to jail
Saul Blair's barbershop after the raid
First block of East Eighth Street on February 26
Gladys Stephenson, Maurice Weaver, and Saul Blair
Jesse "Peter" Harris being searched
Arrestees after the patrol raid on February 26
White civilians on the road on February 25
The four Columbia police officers who were fired upon
Sheriff James J. Underwood Sr.
Three young members of the State Guard
State Guard Commander Jacob McGavock Dickinson Jr.
Highway Patrol officers search men from the Lodge Hall
Highway patrolmen and armed white civilians
Morton's Funeral Parlor after the raid
Columbia policeman Bernard O. Stofel
NAACP defense counsel and five of the defendants
Z. Alexander Looby, Maurice Weaver, and Leon Ransom