Fire in a Canebrake: The Last Mass Lynching in America

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‘Fire in a canebrake’ is quite a scorcher by Laura Wexler and which focuses on the last mass lynching which occurred in the American Deep South, the one in the heartland of rural Georgia, precisely Walton County, Georgia on 25th July, 1946, less than a year after the Second World War. Wexler narrates the story of the four black sharecroppers who met their end ‘at the hand of person’s unknown’ when an undisclosed number of white men simply shot the blacks to death. The author concentrates on the way the evidence was collected in those eerie post war times and how the FBI was actually involved in the case, but how nothing came of their extensive investigations.

Interestingly, the book does not focus solely on the Georgia lynching, but delves into the actual study of the word lynching which was coined by legendary judge Charles B Lynch of Virginia to indicate extra-legal justice meted out to those in the frontier where the rule of law was largely absent. In fact, Wexler continues to analyse how the term lynching began to be used to describe mob violence in the 19th century, when the victim was deemed to have been guilty before being tried by due process in a court of law.

The Moore’s Ford lynching shows that the Ku Klux Klan was still very powerful in Georgia just after the Second World War. Blacks who lived in these areas which were overwhelmingly rural and contained large plantations owned by white men were regularly browbeaten into submission by the white minority and sporadic outbreaks of violence were not uncommon. There was a wealth of evidence against several white men who were prominent citizens of the county, but no prosecution was ever conducted and the murderers went to their graves without having paid for their crime....

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...es such as Georgia to deny blacks their civil rights as well as federal protection. Wexler reveals the shameful standards of the investigation which was simply a cover up from beginning to end. There is also some feeling with regards to the racism and hatred of the white townspeople who almost thought that the blacks actually deserved their terrible fate.

‘Fire in a Canebrake’ is important since it sheds new light on the last mass lynching in America. It certainly shows the ambivalence and poor standards of the investigation into the case by the authorities as well as the terrible racism of the common townsfolk who could not care a jot about the fate of the murdered blacks. The book is a clear indictment of the terrible plague of lynching.

Works Cited

Fire in a Canebrake: The Last Mass Lynching in America by Laura Wexler, Scribner, January 13, 2004 288pp

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