Synopses & Reviews
The "arresting, astonishing history" of one lawyer and his defendant who together achieved a "civil rights milestone" (Justin Driver).
In 1966 in a small town in Louisiana, a 19-year-old black man named Gary Duncan pulled his car off the road to stop a fight between a group of four white kids and two of Gary's own cousins. After putting his hand on the arm of one of the white children, Duncan was arrested for assault. A member of the local branch of the NAACP, Duncan used his contacts to reach Richard Sobol, a 29-year-old born and bred New Yorker working that summer in a black firm ("the most radical law firm") in New Orleans, to represent him.
In this powerful work of character-driven history that benefits from the author's deep understanding of the law, Van Meter brings alive how one court case changed the course of justice in the South, and eventually the entire country. The events that Gary Duncan set in motion brought to an end a form of injustice — denial of trial by jury — that led to the incarceration of thousands of poor and mostly black Americans. Duncan vs. Louisiana changed America, but before it did it changed the lives of the people who litigated it.
"Excellent debut...readers will be struck by how many of the issues involved-voter suppression, public funding for private schools, racial inequalities in the criminal justice system-are still being legislated today." Publisher Weekly (Starred Review)
"A seminal work of impeccable scholarship." Library Journal (Starred Review)
"An examination of a 1966 racial confrontation and its aftermath....Will appeal to admirers of Bryan Stevenson....Timely reading." Kirkus
About the Author
Matthew Van Meter, raised a Quaker, is a graduate of the M.F.A. nonfiction program at Columbia University, and he's written about criminal justice for the Atlantic, Longreads, and The Awl. Prior to his M.F.A., he wrote about the former Soviet Union for Forbes and Russia, and he was a columnist for Russia Profile. He lives in Detroit, Michigan.