Fire in a Canebrake: The Last Mass Lynching in America

Fire in a Canebrake: The Last Mass Lynching in America By Laura Wexler | Scribner. $24.


We like to think of lynching as a relic. Captured in grim, sepia-toned snapshots, the bodies dangling from trees and bridges appear decidedly premodern — etched, unmoving evidence of someone else’ s hatred. But on July 25, 1946, at the dawn of baby boom America, a vengeful white mob in Walton County, Georgia, murdered two young black couples. It may have been America’ s “last mass lynching,” but the crime’ s legacy remains very much alive.

Journalist Laura Wexler confesses that she’ d hoped to solve this still-open case — the brutality of which spurred the Truman administration to inaugurate a federal commission on civil rights. But the rural Georgia she negotiates — culturally segregated and premised upon an economy of mutual fear — is not so different from the one the FBI struggled with in its initial inquiry.

Through archival reports and Þrsthand interviews, Wexler offers fresh insights into the histories of the victims and suspects in the crime. But in the end, whether out of stubbornness, resignation, or fear, no one seems much inclined to set the record straight. Those closest to the murders haven’ t spoken for decades — and in those who haven’ t already died, the truth most certainly has.