Alabama's Mitcham Wars: Essaying Mortal Wounds
An 1890s murder cold case. . .an account of a bloody episode that left 10 people dead. . .and a grandson s discovery of his grandfather s role in the final slaying all these are threads in Jerry Elijah Brown s true story of conflict and change in a backwoods district of southwest Alabama. Harper Lee calls the book the best to come out of Alabama since To Kill a Mockingbird. Brown, who was born in the remote district, said the book is the first to describe and defend a community that was terrorized from within and without. The story has never been told from the victims point of view. The book s 14 overlapping essays connect the various themes, describing the violence, the community and its pioneer background and the life of the man accused of one of the murders. A section of photographs is included. The book deals with tensions between backcountry farmers who borrowed money to put in their cotton crops and merchant-lenders who took advantage of the crop-lien system. The tensions erupted into what came to be called the Mitcham War, which pitted a gang of local ruffians against a mob of equally lawless vigilantes. The vigilantes made no distinction between the outlaws in the community and terrorized innocent neighbors. The violence resulted in the district s being described in one state paper as Clarke County s criminal colony. Forty years after his grandfather died, the author discovered that Lee Brown had been arrested, jailed, and tried for the assassination of a mysterious detective who assisted the vigilantes. The story attracted state-wide coverage. Lee Brown was labeled a murderer and was reported lynched. Yet within the county, the story was suppressed by all of the parties involved. Only after the author found court documents and newspaper stories did the complicated drama emerge. Although the detective s tombstone is marked, in a graveyard at a prominent crossroads, this story was taboo, Brown said. This was one story my grandfather, a noted story teller, never told. Lee Brown was not convicted, and he died in 1960, at age 88. He was a merry man, and a brave one, and he served his community and his family without bragging, Brown said.
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