In the Pines: A Lynching, a Lie, a Reckoning

In the Pines: A Lynching, a Lie, a Reckoning is a story with personal significance for Grace Elizabeth Hale (Making Whiteness), who tackles some of the greatest race-relations demons--historical and continuing--in the United States. In this thoroughly researched account, Hale investigates the 1947 murder of a man named Versie Johnson in rural Jefferson Davis County, Miss. The author's beloved grandfather served as sheriff at the time, and her mother originally offered this tale as one of righteous heroism: her white grandfather stood up to a mob and refused to release his Black prisoner, who was somehow nevertheless removed to the woods where he died. But Hale learns that her grandfather's involvement was neither innocent nor heroic.

In her thoughtful narrative, Hale places the death of Versie Johnson in layers of context. She works to find personal information about Johnson, with limited results: one theme of her book is the lack of recorded facts about people judged inconsequential by the record-keepers. A historian of American culture, Hale began to do research for this book as she finished a doctoral dissertation on southern segregation, Jim Crow, lynching, and white supremacy. In the Pines is elevated by lovely writing: "Family trees are metaphors. They share with pines both a basic structure and a tendency to flourish only when conditions are right." It is also marked by incisive thinking about race in history and in the present. Hale's work is a significant contribution to that larger conversation. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

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