As a child, Joseph Beck heard the stories—when other lawyers came up with excuses, his father courageously defended a black man charged with raping a white woman.
Now a lawyer himself, Beck reconstructs his father's role in State of Alabama vs. Charles White, Alias, a trial that was much publicized when Harper Lee was twelve years old.
On the day of Foster Beck’s client’s arrest, the leading local newspaper reported, under a page-one headline, that "a wandering negro fortune teller giving the name Charles White" had "volunteered a detailed confession of the attack" of a local white girl. However, Foster Beck concluded that the confession was coerced. The same article claimed that "the negro accomplished his dastardly purpose," but as in To Kill a Mockingbird, there was evidence at the trial to the contrary. Throughout the proceedings, the defendant had to be escorted from the courthouse to a distant prison “for safekeeping,” and the courthouse itself was surrounded by a detachment of sixteen Alabama highway patrolmen.
The saga captivated the community with its dramatic testimonies and emotional outcome. It would take an immense toll on those involved, including Foster Beck, who worried that his reputation had cast a shadow over his lively, intelligent, and supportive fiancé, Bertha, who had her own social battles to fight.
This riveting memoir, steeped in time and place, seeks to understand how race relations, class, and the memory of southern defeat in the Civil War produced such a haunting distortion of justice, and how it may figure into our literary imagination.
Joseph Madison Beck is an Atlanta attorney. He also teaches at Emory Law School and has lectured at universities throughout the United States and abroad.
IS A BLACK LIFE WORTH LESS THAN A WHITE ONE?
When, in May 1969, the body of David Oluwale was fished out of the River Aire near Leeds, not too many questions were asked about the circumstances of his death. Oluwale was a tramp and a patient in a mental hospital, an immigrant from Nigeria who was trapped in a system that failed him miserably - a police charge sheet from just two weeks earlier had 'BRIT' scored out, his nationality replaced with 'WOG'.
Eighteen months later a lengthy campaign of harassment by two Leeds policemen was uncovered - Oluwale became national news in Britain, and a symbol for its black community. This extraordinary book draws on original archival material only recently released to revisit one of the most chilling crimes in British history, and at the same time raises questions as relevant today as they were at the end of the sixties.
Winner of the CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction 2008
Two Australian boys on a working holiday in the snowfields of the American Rocky Mountains decided to rob a bank. Their plan was so hopelessly inept that although they escaped with over US$130,000 after threatening bank staff with a replica pistol, the trail of clues they left ensured they were identified almost immediately.
Among the many things they did wrong was to rob a bank where they were regular customers (staff instantly recognised them and their impossible-to-disguise Australian accents), to tip a taxi driver $20,000, and then to photograph themselves holding up bundles of the stolen money, all before attempting to buy one way tickets to Mexico in cash. From the moment the alarm was raised, it took the Vail Police department all of eight minutes to identify the two boys as the culprits.
But what started as two young larrikins planning something stupid soon became deadly serious as both Anthony Prince and his partner Luke Carroll faced life imprisonment for armed robbery. Their youth, previous good behaviour and obvious remorse persuaded the US court to give them a reduced sentence but they were still to serve almost five years in some of America's most violent penitentiaries.
Forsyth County, Georgia, at the turn of the twentieth century, was home to a large African American community that included ministers and teachers, farmers and field hands, tradesmen, servants, and children. But then in September of 1912, three young black laborers were accused of raping and murdering a white girl. One man was dragged from a jail cell and lynched on the town square, two teenagers were hung after a one-day trial, and soon bands of white “night riders” launched a coordinated campaign of arson and terror, driving all 1,098 black citizens out of the county. The charred ruins of homes and churches disappeared into the weeds, until the people and places of black Forsyth were forgotten.
National Book Award finalist Patrick Phillips tells Forsyth’s tragic story in vivid detail and traces its long history of racial violence all the way back to antebellum Georgia. Recalling his own childhood in the 1970s and ’80s, Phillips sheds light on the communal crimes of his hometown and the violent means by which locals kept Forsyth “all white” well into the 1990s. In precise, vivid prose, Blood at the Root delivers a “vital investigation of Forsyth’s history, and of the process by which racial injustice is perpetuated in America” (Congressman John Lewis).
“Go Set a Watchman is such an important book, perhaps the most important novel on race to come out of the white South in decades." — New York Times
A landmark novel by Harper Lee, set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch—“Scout”—returns home to Maycomb, Alabama from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town, and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past—a journey that can only be guided by one’s own conscience.
Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of the late Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor, and effortless precision—a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context, and new meaning to an American classic.
Black Boy is Richard Wright's powerful account of his journey from innocence to experience in the Jim Crow South. It is at once an unashamed confession and a profound indictment—a poignant and disturbing record of social injustice and human suffering.