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Murder on Shades Mountain: The Legal Lynching of Willie Peterson and the Struggle for Justice in Jim Crow Birmingham by Melanie S. Morrison

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On August 4, 1931, 18-year-old Nell Williams, her sister, and a friend were attacked on Shades Mountain near Birmingham. Nell Williams was shot in the arm but survived. Her two companions died of gunshot wounds. Williams claimed that their assailant was a well-educated, stout, light-skinned, Negro from the North. That night, white vigilantes unleashed a reign of terror on Black neighborhoods of Birmingham and all over Alabama, burning down Black businesses and harassing Black citizens. Law enforcement authorities encouraged white vigilantes to “help” them find a suspect and blamed Communist Party activists without a shred of evidence. Hundreds of Black men were detained and questioned, many brought in from distant communities. Birmingham’s Communist Party headquarters was raided, and among those detained but released was Angelo Herndon who was later convicted of insurrection in Atlanta in 1932 for organizing for the Communist Party. Weeks later, Willie Peterson was detained and then charged with the murders despite the fact that he bore no resemblance to the description that Nell Williams gave of her attacker. The Williams family asked to meet with Peterson, and Nell’s brother, Dent, shot him three times, but was later acquitted of attempted murder. Peterson was convicted and sentenced to death, but the NAACP and the Communist Party defended him, and he died of tuberculosis in jail in 1940. Publishers Weekly gave this book a starred review and commented, "In this passionate account of Jim Crow–era injustice, educator and activist Morrison exposes how courtrooms 'could function like lynch mobs when the defendant was black.'... Morrison, who is white, shares this painful story with clarity and compassion, emphasizing how much has changed since the 1930s, how much white people need to 'critically interrogate' the past, and how much 'remains to be done' in the fight for justice." The author, Melanie S. Morrison, is the founder and director of Allies for Change and a United Church of Christ pastor with a Masters of Divinity from Yale and a PhD from a university in The Netherlands. She lives in Michigan. This is her fourth book.

Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2018. 256 pages with photos, Index, Bibliography and Notes. Hardback in dust jacket