One August night in 1931, on a secluded mountain ridge overlooking Birmingham, Alabama, three young white women were brutally attacked. The sole survivor, Nell Williams, age eighteen, said a black man had held the women captive for four hours before shooting them and disappearing into the woods. That same night, a reign of terror was unleashed on Birmingham's black community: black businesses were set ablaze, posses of armed white men roamed the streets, and dozens of black men were arrested in the largest manhunt in Jefferson County history. Weeks later, Nell identified Willie Peterson as the attacker who killed her sister Augusta and their friend Jenny Wood. With the exception of being black, Peterson bore little resemblance to the description Nell gave the police. An all-white jury convicted Peterson of murder and sentenced him to death. IN this volume, the author tells the gripping and tragic story of the attack and its aftermath - events that shook Birmingham to its core. Having first heard the story from her father - who dated Nell's youngest sister when he was a teenager - the author scoured the historical archives and documented the black-led campaigns that sought to overturn Peterson's unjust conviction, spearheaded by the NAACP and the Community Party. The travesty of justice suffered by Peterson reveals how the judicial system could function as a lynch mob in the Jim Crow South. This volume also sheds new light on the struggle for justice in Depression-era Birmingham. This riveting narrative is a testament to the courageous predecessors of present-day movements that demand an end to racial profiling, police brutality, and the criminalization of black men.
Introduction. Part 1 Danger in the Magic City : August 4, 1931 -- A city beset by fear -- Reign of terror in the black community -- Fear, loathing, and oblivion in the white community. Part 2 Trials and tribulations : The arrest: September 23, 1931 -- Attempted murder -- Grand jury testimonies -- The NAACP comes to life -- Mounting the defense -- House of pain -- "A temporarily dethroned mind" -- "An outrageous spectacle of injustice" -- A tumultuous year. Part 3 never turning back : Staying on the firing line -- Charles Hamilton Houston -- A lynching in Tuscaloosa -- Moving the case forward -- No Negroes allowed -- A flood of letters -- A multitude of regrets -- Grave doubts as to his guilt -- Jim Crow justice. Epilogue: the community that kept faith -- Afterword: letter to my father. Acknowledgments -- Notes -- Bibliography -- Index