[Blackstudies-l] Now Available for course adoption: They Stole Him Out of Jail: Willie Earl, South Carolina's Last Lynching Victim

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Mon Aug 26 11:31:46 EDT 2019

They Stole Him Out of Jail:
Willie Earle, South Carolina's Last Lynching Victim

William B. Gravely


*Request an exam copy here

*336 pp. Hardcover: $29.99  ISBN: 978-1-61117-937-8 12 B&W illus.*
*William B. Gravely*, professor emeritus at the University of Denver, is
the author of *Gilbert Haven, Methodist Abolitionist*, as well as numerous
articles on religion and social change. He is a native of Pickens County,
South Carolina, where the murder of T. W. Brown occurred and where Willie
Earle was jailed before his abduction.
“[This] should be a required textbook for any college course on Southern
history. There would be no better book for understanding Southern culture
and how we have struggled with humanitarian progress in law enforcement,
religious understandings regarding integration and civil rights for all the
different peoples of the South.”

—Pickens County Courier

Before daybreak on February 17, 1947, twenty-four-year-old Willie Earle, an
African American man arrested for the murder of a Greenville, South
Carolina, taxi driver named T. W. Brown, was abducted from his jail cell by
a mob, and then beaten, stabbed, and shot to death. An investigation
produced thirty-one suspects, most of them cabbies seeking revenge for one
of their own. The police and FBI obtained twenty-six confessions, but,
after a nine-day trial in May that attracted national press attention, the
defendants were acquitted by an all-white jury.

In They Stole Him Out of Jail
*William B. Gravely * presents the most comprehensive account of the Earle
lynching ever written, exploring it from background to aftermath and from
multiple perspectives. Among his sources are contemporary press accounts
(there was no trial transcript), extensive interviews and archival
documents, and the “Greenville notebook” kept by Rebecca West, the
well-known British writer who covered the trial for the New Yorker
magazine. Gravely meticulously re-creates the case’s details, analyzing the
flaws in the investigation and prosecution that led in part to the
acquittals. Vivid portraits emerge of key figures in the story, including
both Earle and Brown, Solicitor Robert T. Ashmore, Governor Strom Thurmond,
and West, whose article “*Opera in Greenville *” is masterful journalism
but marred by errors owing to her short stay in the area. Gravely also
probes problems with memory that resulted in varying interpretations of
Willie Earle’s character and conflicting narratives about the lynching

Although the verdict was in many ways a victory for white supremacy during
the waning years of Jim Crow, it still drew unprecedented public attention
to the horrors of lynching, and no similar event has occurred in the state
since. Yet, more than seventy years later, the crisis in criminal justice —
especially as it pertains to African Americans, who are incarcerated at far
higher rates than whites — remains a national challenge. This book is a
compelling reminder not only of past traumas but of how far South Carolina
and the country has yet to go.

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