Portrait of a Racist: The Man Who Killed Medgar Evers?

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9780312093655: Portrait of a Racist: The Man Who Killed Medgar Evers?

Casting new light on the murder of Medgar Evers and on the troubled history of Byron De La Beckwith, his alleged killer, a revelatory biography by Beckwith's nephew probes the dark story of Southern white supremacists. 25,000 first printing. $25,000 ad/promo.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

Biography of Byron De La Beckwith, the presumed killer of civil-rights martyr Medgar Evers: in spite of its flaws, a grim reminder of the hate groups that have plagued the movement for racial justice. Byron De La Beckwith, known as ``De La,'' was born in California to a drunken father and an unstable mother, both with exaggerated notions of their social status. The debt-ridden father died when Beckwith was five, the child then moving with his mother to her native Mississippi. Beckwith failed in school but succeeded as a Marine, returning home from service with an intensified love of weaponry and with a wife (the author's aunt) he'd met in Tennessee. Mary Louise Williams, known as ``Willie,'' was an alcoholic, a frequent user of the word ``nigger,'' and, on the domestic front, nearly as violent as Beckwith, to whom she was married three times. In general, Massingill strikes the reader here as being excessively sympathetic to his aunt, indiscriminately mixing her personal resentments against Beckwith--using various staples of psychobabble--into the important history he tells. He does tell that history, however, in a highly readable narrative, describing Beckwith's racist environment, the vile and retrograde organizations with which he made common cause, and Evers's noble effort to fulfill his mission. Thirty years after Evers's murder (Beckwith, in prison, awaits his third trial), hate groups proliferate. One can't help wishing that Massengill had reduced the personal detail here, allowing more emphasis on the great questions of politics and justice woven into Beckwith's, Evers's--and our--social understanding. (Sixteen-page photo insert--not seen.) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Booklist:

While in jail in 1963, accused of the murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers in Mississippi, Byron de La Beckwith was treated as a hero by fellow white residents anxious to see segregation upheld; by the 1980s, in prison for a weapons violation, he was largely forgotten by all but the most diehard of white supremacists. Massengill, Beckwith's nephew, traces Beckwith's history, beginning with his service in battle during World War II continuing through his activism in groups such as the white-supremacist Citizens' Council and later the Klan. The chapters depicting Beckwith's various trials for Evers' murder (hung juries were the result) are the most compelling, although a later, ill-fated run for lieutenant governor, fueled by his growing resentment of blacks and Jews during the 1970s and 1980s, comprises a masterly portrait of a man unable to cope with events passing him by. In addition, the in-depth look at the Klan and other white-supremacist groups during the turbulent 1960s and beyond is top-notch. Did Beckwith kill Evers? We may never find out, but this first-rate look at a troubled man symbolizing a chilling underground movement answers many questions while raising countless others. Joe Collins

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