Monday, February 08, 2010

Pg. 99: Sharon Davies' "Rising Road"

Today's feature at the Page 99 Test: Rising Road: A True Tale of Love, Race, and Religion in America by Sharon Davies.

About the book, from the publisher:
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 Rev. 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.
Read more about Rising Road at the Oxford University Press website.

Sharon L. Davies is the John C. Elam/Vorys Sater Designated Professor of Law at the Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University.

The Page 99 Test: Rising Road.

--Marshal Zeringue