Saturday, March 20, 2010
A message to the Salisbury sheriff, telegraphed from nearby Barber Junction railroad station, was soon heard round the country. And the media blitz began.
Even without embellishment, the facts of the Lyerly murders were enough to make the coldest blood boil. But they also presented the perfect opportunity for the newly-crowned Jim Crow-dominated press to justify its recent coup, which virtually rescinded the rights former slaves had barely begun to enjoy. It didn't take reporters from Charlotte and Salisbury long to lay blame for the murders on the Lyerly's tenant farmers, focusing on an argument over crop payment they'd had months earlier.
So, what started out as an investigation of the ax murders and lynching, turned into a study of early 20th century press as well – revealing how the majority of reporting in the South was contaminated by the political agenda of white supremacy.
Named after the lynching games children played in the aftermath of the tragedies, A Game Called Salisbury is more than just the story of a regional tragedy. It serves to illustrate one of the more devastating residual effects of Raleigh News and Observer editor Josephus Daniels' 1898 white supremacist campaign tactics. Daniels, who went on to serve as Woodrow Wilson's Secretary of the Navy, dominated and contaminated most of North Carolina’s press with racist propaganda, creating much of the mindset on, and the myths of, "race" that remain intact today.
Future posts will include some of the images and tactics Daniels deployed to destroy the lives of African Americans and create his Jim Crow empire.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
"This is history, memory, and mystery that will haunt the reader for a long time."
- Glenda E. Gilmore Peter V. and C. Vann Woodward Professor of History, Yale University
"...Faulknerian in its revelations and observations of human nature, clearly spotlighting the question of real responsibility not just for active human evil, but also for spawning its activity.... Wells shows us that lynchings were (and are) the tip of the iceberg, the cruel result of calculated manipulation of our base human natures and our cowardliness in not confronting evil when we see it, either now or then. While this book lacks Twain's humor, it rivals his incisiveness."
-Tex Wood, author (Likable Sins) and English Professor, Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College
"Author does dogged detective work about a family murder."
"One of the most chilling recent books about local history comes to our eyes via self-publication. In 'A Game Called Salisbury' (Infinity Publishing), Susan Barringer Wells presents the story of a series of murders and retributive lynchings that had taken place within her family a century ago. The book is exhaustively researched and compellingly related. To be passionate about a subject is one thing; to tell the story in a fresh and focused way, as Wells does, is a rarer achievement."
- Rob Neufeld, Asheville Citizen-Times
"The study's emphasis on the media's role in the lynchings is of particular interest. Drawing on a range of newspaper accounts, Wells shows how journalists presupposed the men's guilt and fueled whites' desire for revenge. She also underscores the legal system's disservice to the murder suspects.... Wells's description of the scant punishment mob members faced...is notable for its exposure of the class prejudice that coexisted with racial prejudice in early twentieth-century North Carolina. A Game Called Salisbury makes for engaging, albeit disturbing, reading."
- Elizabeth Crowder, The North Carolina Historical Review
"The author says in the Preface that the book was `a little about me,' but, in reality, the book is all about her, for throughout the book, the reader is entranced by her ability to delve into the grisly details of her ancestors' violent deaths, yet maintain objectivity, and compassion for the alleged murderers, whom she also labels as victims. Though she is not a trained historian, in this way she is able to maintain a historian's distance. But Wells tends to inject into the discussion her political opinions about events in today's era, which is a bit distracting. Still, overall, the book is well worth reading. It complements Alexander S. Leidholdt's study (`Editor for Justice') of lynchings in Virginia and the rise of Louis I. Jaffe, a Virginian Pilot editor, as a national crusader against the crime."
- Tommy Bogger, professor of History and Director of the Harrison B. Wilson Archives at Norfolk State University, for the Virginian Pilot