Flames after Midnight: Murder, Vengeance, and the Desolation of a Texas Community, Revised Edition

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9780292726338: Flames after Midnight: Murder, Vengeance, and the Desolation of a Texas Community, Revised Edition

What happened in Kirven, Texas, in May 1922, has been forgotten by the outside world. It was a coworker's whispered words, "Kirven is where they burned the [Negroes]," that set Monte Akers to work at discovering the true story behind a young white woman's brutal murder and the burning alive of three black men who were almost certainly innocent of it. This was followed by a month-long reign of terror as white men killed blacks while local authorities concealed the real identity of the white probable murderers and allowed them to go free.

Writing nonfiction with the skill of a novelist, Akers paints a vivid portrait of a community desolated by race hatred and its own refusal to face hard truths. He sets this tragedy within the story of a region prospering from an oil boom but plagued by lawlessness, and traces the lynching's repercussions down the decades to the present day. In the new epilogue, Akers adds details that have come to light as a result of the book's publication, including an eyewitness account of the burnings from an elderly man who claimed to have castrated two of the men before they were lynched.

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About the Author:

MONTE AKERS lived in Freestone County, Texas, where the events in this book took place, for nine years. He is now a partner in the Akers & Boulware-Wells law firm in Austin. He is also an adjunct professor at Texas State University–San Marcos.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

From the Prologue to Part One

This is not a pretty story. It "skims the joy off the pan of conversation." It asks thistle questions and offers scorpion answers, but it needs to be told.

I lived in Freestone County from l981 to l990, and heard a seven-word summary of this story the first week I was there. It was whispered to me by a fellow employee of Dow Chemical Company.

Like me, he was an outsider, and he did not know any facts, but the story was the kind that needed whispering more than it needed facts. The story was the kind we each thought we understood in about seven words.

The seven words he whispered to me were "Kirven is where they burned the niggers."

I forgave him his poor choice of words at the time, rather like I might forgive a new acquaintance for having bad breath or dismal table manners. His use of the N-word told me eloquently that although he and I might be co-workers, we would not be close friends. We were too different.

I grew up in a place where race was rarely an issue. People in our little corner of the Panhandle of Texas seldom used words like "nigger" or "spick" or "kike" in the l950s and 60s. There were no blacks, and few or no Hispanics, Oriental people, or American Indians.

Folks determined to be prejudiced against an entire category of people had to content themselves with resenting the numerous Germans who inhabited the area. Beyond that, the human penchant for discrimination had to be satisfied with more fragmentary antipathies, such as that of Methodists for Baptists, of ranchers for farmers, of haves for have-nots. As a result, I grew up with no preconceived notions about the inferiority of one race in comparison with another.

Freestone County had a lot of outsiders in l981. The energy crisis of the 1970s and the search for alternative fuel sources had attracted several large companies that were buying and leasing rights to mine lignite, a brown coal abundant in the region. The commerce and economic opportunity were welcome, but distinctions between natives and outsiders were carefully preserved. There were also subjects the natives preferred outsiders not probe. This story was at the top of the list.

In l986, I was elected chairman of the Freestone County Historical Commission, an unexpected elevation for an outsider. The position resulted in my learning some of the county's darker secrets. That is when this story seized me and would not let go.

I do not claim to be uniquely qualified to write about the history of Freestone County, and I am certainly not qualified to pass judgment upon it. Indeed, there are natives living there today who would pronounce me, an outsider who lived there only nine years and who was not reared around black people, particularly unfit to do so.

Nor do I present this work as a scholarly analysis of the practice of lynching in America. While that subject may be the shiny white bone poking from beneath America's closet door, our nation's holocaust, the door has been pulled open and the skeleton examined hundreds of times.

Still, this particular story, details of which have never been published, deserves particular attention. Although neither the participants in the events nor those who live in Freestone County today were aware of it, the lynchings in Kirven received widespread, even international, publicity. That attention helped contribute, albeit indirectly and gradually, to the end of the practice of racial lynching in America.

To those who would say the telling of this tale serves only to open up old wounds, stoke the fires of racial debate, or promote feelings of resentment and victimization, I respond that I have thought long and hard about those possibilities. My hope, however, is that the telling of this tale may actually contribute in some small way to the healing of American racial relations.

Such a claim may seem preposterous, but the idea has given me hope since it was first suggested by a bright, young, black attorney who heard this story and described how she believes it fits into our nation's racial history and the four stages of human grieving.

Comparing America's aching racial past with the death of a loved one, she regards those people, black and white, who prefer that the past remain buried, as being in the first stage of the grieving process, that of denial. Others in the country are in the second stage, that of anger, while others occupy the third stage--sorrow. Still others, many in the South, are in the final stage, which is healing. She believes, and I agree with her, that healing requires knowledge, as well as acceptance, neither of which can come until stories such as this one are finally told. When blacks and whites can rationally discuss events such as those which occurred in Kirven, the nation will be closer to acceptance, healing, and recovery.

Finally, the tale is worth telling for its irony and poignancy. Indeed, some of the details, unintended consequences, and coincidences of the story are richer, fuller, and more incongruous than I can capture. I had to try to capture them, however. I have known about the events for seventeen years, and have been researching and writing about them for twelve. Yet I cannot speak of some of the details without emotion catching in my throat.

What follows, what now begins, is the story of Freestone County, Texas, in l922. Events that year in this rural, previously unexceptional part of Texas--"this cold world of care"--affected, and changed, the nation. The tale is not complete, and never can be, but even if every illuminating truth and solution is not revealed, the story supplies the best that history can offer--a chance to study something that should never be repeated.

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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Book Description University of Texas Press, United States, 2011. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Revised ed.. Language: English . Brand New Book. What happened in Kirven, Texas, in May 1922, has been forgotten by the outside world. It was a coworker s whispered words, Kirven is where they burned the [Negroes], that set Monte Akers to work at discovering the true story behind a young white woman s brutal murder and the burning alive of three black men who were almost certainly innocent of it. This was followed by a month-long reign of terror as white men killed blacks while local authorities concealed the real identity of the white probable murderers and allowed them to go free. Writing nonfiction with the skill of a novelist, Akers paints a vivid portrait of a community desolated by race hatred and its own refusal to face hard truths. He sets this tragedy within the story of a region prospering from an oil boom but plagued by lawlessness, and traces the lynching s repercussions down the decades to the present day. In the new epilogue, Akers adds details that have come to light as a result of the book s publication, including an eyewitness account of the burnings from an elderly man who claimed to have castrated two of the men before they were lynched. Bookseller Inventory # AAJ9780292726338

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Book Description University of Texas Press, United States, 2011. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Revised ed.. Language: English . Brand New Book. What happened in Kirven, Texas, in May 1922, has been forgotten by the outside world. It was a coworker s whispered words, Kirven is where they burned the [Negroes], that set Monte Akers to work at discovering the true story behind a young white woman s brutal murder and the burning alive of three black men who were almost certainly innocent of it. This was followed by a month-long reign of terror as white men killed blacks while local authorities concealed the real identity of the white probable murderers and allowed them to go free. Writing nonfiction with the skill of a novelist, Akers paints a vivid portrait of a community desolated by race hatred and its own refusal to face hard truths. He sets this tragedy within the story of a region prospering from an oil boom but plagued by lawlessness, and traces the lynching s repercussions down the decades to the present day. In the new epilogue, Akers adds details that have come to light as a result of the book s publication, including an eyewitness account of the burnings from an elderly man who claimed to have castrated two of the men before they were lynched. Bookseller Inventory # AAJ9780292726338

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