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Fire in a Canebrake

Fire in a Canebrake

The Last Mass Lynching in America

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July 25, 1946. In Walton County, Georgia, a mob of white men commit one of the most heinous racial crimes in America's history: the shotgun murder of four black sharecroppers -- two men and two women -- at Moore's Ford Bridge. Fire in a Canebrake, the term locals used to describe the sound of the fatal gunshots, is the story of our nation's last mass lynching on record. More than a half century later, the lynchers' identities still remain unknown.
Drawing from interviews, archival sources, and uncensored FBI reports, acclaimed journalist and author Laura Wexler takes readers deep into the heart of Walton County, bringing to life the characters who inhabited that infamous landscape -- from sheriffs to white supremacists to the victims themselves -- including a white man who claims to have been a secret witness to the crime. By turns a powerful historical document, a murder mystery, and a cautionary tale, Fire in a Canebrake ignites a powerful contemplation on race, humanity, history, and the epic struggle for truth.
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  • Scribner | 
  • 288 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780684868172 | 
  • January 2004
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I don't want any trouble," said the white man, Barnette Hester. He stood on one side of the dirt road, and his two black tenants, Roger and Dorothy Malcom, stood on the other side. They were shouting and cursing, their voices echoing through the Sunday-evening quiet. The noise had reached Barnette Hester in the barn. He'd stopped in the middle of milking, run out to the road, and issued his warning.

At twenty-nine, Barnette Hester was tall and thin, so thin he appeared boyish, as though his body hadn't yet filled out. His three older brothers were broad-shouldered men who spoke in booming voices, but he, the youngest,... see more

Reading Group Guide

Fire in a Canebrake
Laura Wexler

Questions and Topics For Discussion

1. There have been many unsolved lynchings in American history. In what ways was the Moore’s Ford lynching similar to other lynchings? In what ways was it different or unique? Why did it generate so much national attention?

2. The Moore’s Ford lynching seems to have stemmed, at the outset, from an argument between Barnette Hester and Roger Malcolm. What other circumstances—political, social, historical, economic—contributed to the lynching and the community’s reaction to it?

3. Wexler has described the summer of 1946 as a time of great possibility, great transition, and great unease in the American South, and particularly in Georgia. What do you think she means by this? How did the events of 1946 shift American attitudes about race and civil rights?

4. The author describes many instances in which “good people” refused to come forth with information about the lynching. What evidence does the author give for their reluctance? What were the differences and similarities in the motivations of blacks and whites for withholding information?

5. Wexler unearths many theories and testimonies about what happened on the day of the lynching. Did any of the accounts ring more true than the others? Do you agree that Loy Harrison was in on the plan?

6. Given the horrific nature of the crime and the fact that race is a see more

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