Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Davies, Rising Road: A True Tale of Love, Race, and Religion in America

Rising Road: A True Tale of Love, Race, and Religion in America, by Sharon Davies, Ohio State School of Law, was published earlier this year by Oxford University Press, and has been getting attention. Reviewers call it "gripping," "a fine work of history," "vivid," and "engaging." Here's the book description:
It was among the most notorious criminal cases of its day. On August 11, 1921, in Birmingham, Alabama, a Methodist minister named Edwin Stephenson shot and killed a Catholic priest, James Coyle, in broad daylight and in front of numerous witnesses. The killer's motive? The priest had married Stephenson's eighteen-year-old daughter Ruth--who had secretly converted to Catholicism three months earlier--to Pedro Gussman, a Puerto Rican migrant and practicing Catholic.

Having all but disappeared from historical memory, the murder of Father Coyle and the trial of Reverend Stephenson that followed are vividly resurrected in Sharon Davies's Rising Road . As Davies reveals in remarkable detail, the case laid bare all the bigotries of its time and place: a simmering hatred not only of African Americans, but of Catholics and foreigners as well. In one of the case's most interesting twists, Reverend Stephenson hired future U.S. Supreme Court justice Hugo Black to lead his defense team. Though Black would later be regarded as a champion of civil rights, at the time the talented defense lawyer was only months away from joining the Ku Klux Klan, which held fundraising drives to finance Stephenson's defense. Entering a plea of temporary insanity, Black and his client used both religion and race--accusing the Puerto Rican husband of being "a Negro"--in the hopes of persuading the jury to forgive the priest's murder.

Placing this story in its full social and historical context, Davies brings to life a heinous crime and its aftermath, in a brilliant, in-depth examination of the consequences of prejudice in the Jim Crow era.
Reviews and blurbs:
"First-rate history. Detailed yet fast-paced, it lays bare the common, deep-rooted bigotry of a region and era that made the jury verdict predictable Davies' fascinating book is an excellent work of narrative history. Rising Road deserves a wide audience." --Columbus Dispatch

"An illustrative tale about its time, well worth the telling." --Publishers Weekly

"Gripping...a fine work of history [with] notable economy, clarity, and quality research." --Jim Cullen, History News Network

"In this exquisite book, Sharon Davies takes us deep into the dark heart of the Jim Crow South, where she uncovers a searing story of love, faith, bigotry and violence. Rising Road is a history so powerful, so compelling it stays with you long after you've finished its final page." --Kevin Boyle, author of the National Book Award-winning Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age

"A deep knowledge of Southern and legal history, and of the dramatic give-and-take of criminal trials, allows this compelling human story of religion, race and murder to show how the barbarities of 1920s Alabama had played out in families, courts and politics." --David Roediger, Professor of History at University of Illinois and author of How Race Survived U.S. History
Davies discusses the book at the American Constitution Society Blog.