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Summary and book reviews of Race Against Time by Jerry Mitchell

Race Against Time

A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era

by Jerry Mitchell

Race Against Time by Jerry Mitchell X
Race Against Time by Jerry Mitchell
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  • Published:
    Feb 2020, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jamie Chornoby
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About this Book

Book Summary

On June 21, 1964, more than twenty Klansmen murdered three civil rights workers. The killings, in what would become known as the "Mississippi Burning" case, were among the most brazen acts of violence during the civil rights movement. And even though the killers' identities, including the sheriff's deputy, were an open secret, no one was charged with murder in the months and years that followed.

It took forty-one years before the mastermind was brought to trial and finally convicted for the three innocent lives he took. If there is one man who helped pave the way for justice, it is investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell.

In Race Against Time, Mitchell takes readers on the twisting, pulse-racing road that led to the reopening of four of the most infamous killings from the days of the civil rights movement, decades after the fact. His work played a central role in bringing killers to justice for the assassination of Medgar Evers, the firebombing of Vernon Dahmer, the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham and the Mississippi Burning case. Mitchell reveals how he unearthed secret documents, found long-lost suspects and witnesses, building up evidence strong enough to take on the Klan. He takes us into every harrowing scene along the way, as when Mitchell goes into the lion's den, meeting one-on-one with the very murderers he is seeking to catch. His efforts have put four leading Klansmen behind bars, years after they thought they had gotten away with murder.

Race Against Time is an astonishing, courageous story capturing a historic race for justice, as the past is uncovered, clue by clue, and long-ignored evils are brought into the light. This is a landmark book and essential reading for all Americans.

Chapter 1

The Ford station wagon topped a hill before disappearing into the darkness. Mickey Schwerner drove, deep in thought. Fellow New Yorker Andy Goodman propped his body against the passenger door, drifting off to sleep. Mississippi native James Chaney, the lone African-American, swallowed hard, shifting in the backseat.

Two cars and a pickup truck raced to catch up. Schwerner spotted them in his rearview mirror. "Uh-oh."

The noise woke Goodman. "What is it? What do they want?"

Schwerner rolled down the window and stuck out his arm, motioning for the car to pass. "Is it a cop?"

Goodman gazed back. "I can't see."

The car crunched into the wagon, and Schwerner wondered aloud if their pursuers were playing a joke.

"They ain't playin'," Chaney said. "You better believe it."

Metal and glass smashed again. "What are we going to do?" Goodman asked.

Schwerner told his fellow civil rights workers to hold on. He jerked the wagon off the blacktop onto a dirt road, sending up a swirl of dust. His ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Mitchell's writing is engaging and impactful from start to finish. Though told largely in his own words from a present point-of-view, Race Against Time is a fascinating mixture of interviews, court transcripts, testimonies, personal conversations, article excerpts, secret files, dead-of-night tip-offs and secret meetings. Readers are drawn directly into the hearts of these cases, stunned by breaking revelations right alongside the reporter...continued

Full Review (627 words).

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(Reviewed by Jamie Chornoby).

Media Reviews

New York Times
A vivid, quick-paced, accessible account of horrific crimes...Race Against Time admirably assumes the heavy burden that Jerry Mitchell takes on; it warrants praise, gratitude and a wide audience.

Booklist
In this heart-pounding, grimly relevant account, much-honored reporter Mitchell illuminates what it took to bring long-overdue justice to the Klansmen responsible for the 1964 Mississippi murders of the three civil rights workers and NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer, as well as the white supremacist killer of Medgar Evers.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A fine work of investigative journalism and an essential addition to the history of the civil rights movement.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
A fine work of investigative journalism and an essential addition to the history of the civil rights movement.

Author Blurb John Grisham, author of The Guardians
For almost two decades, investigative journalist Jerry Mitchell doggedly pursued the Klansmen responsible for some of the most notorious murders of the civil rights movement. This book is his amazing story. Thanks to him, and to courageous prosecutors, witnesses, and FBI agents, justice finally prevailed.

Author Blurb Erik Larson, author of The Devil in the White City
Chilling and gripping. And rest assured, Jerry Mitchell is the real deal—a dogged, fearless crusader for truth, and one hell of a story teller.

Author Blurb Taylor Branch, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Parting the Waters
Jerry Mitchell's memoir revives promise for journalism. In this stirring, insider's account of four notorious crimes from the 1960s, his tenacious allies defy race and resignation to win historic miracles for justice.

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Beyond the Book

Looking Back On Mississippi Burning (1988)

Mississippi Burning film posterIn December 1988, the controversial crime-thriller movie Mississippi Burning was released. It follows two FBI agents—played by Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe—who investigate the disappearance of three civil rights workers. The agents' efforts to solve the case are hindered by a hostile local police force and the Ku Klux Klan.

Director Alan Parker and writer Chris Gerolmo loosely based the movie on the murders of Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney, and Michael Schwerner, which occurred in Neshoba County, Mississippi in 1964. These three civil rights activists belonged to the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). They joined Freedom Summer—also known as the Mississippi Summer ...

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