TUESDAY

World War II was over. And as black veterans were returning to their families, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that they had a right to vote in primaries. The white farmers of Georgia’s Walton County, who still relied on black sharecroppers to pick cotton by hand, feared things were getting out of control. Circumstances were coming to a head. In this climate, four young black people were shot to death by a lynch mob near Moore’s Ford Bridge, close to Monroe on July 25, 1946. The crime galvanized American public opinion and led Harry Truman to become the first U.S. president to “put civil rights at the forefront of the national agenda.” Laura Wexler’s Fire in a Canebrake: The Last Mass Lynching in America could just as well have been titled The Anatomy of a Lynching, so well does it reconstruct the tangled chain of events that led to the cold-blooded murders of Roger Malcom, Dorothy Malcom, George Dorsey, and Mae Murray Dorsey. Wexler questions the long-held notion that the mob initially meant to lynch only Roger Malcom, who had just been released on bond for charges of stabbing a white farmer. Instead, she weaves a more complex tale of vengeance involving bootlegging, a wealthy white farmer named Loy Harrison, and two white girls who liked to attend the black house parties held nearby. Fire in a Canebrake is a story about a great wrong and justice denied, and a depressing reminder that the great mass of mankind is capable of doing evil and then going to church afterwards. Wexler is in town at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28 (see City List for other dates), at Barnes & Noble, 4801 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda. Free. (301) 986-1761 (Michael Little)

More from WCP