The book is so important that John Grisham states: “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.”
Jerry Mitchell has been called “a loose cannon,” “a pain in the ass” and a “white traitor.” He’s also one of the most decorated investigative journalists in the nation, having won more than 30 national awards—including a MacArthur “Genius Grant,” Columbia’s John Chancellor Award, the Sidney Hillman Prize and the George Polk Award as well as a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Whatever he’s been called, he has never given up in his quest to bring unpunished killers to justice.
Since 1989, the investigative journalist for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, has unearthed documents, cajoled suspects and witnesses, and quietly pursued evidence in some of the nation’s most notorious killings. Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era (Simon & Schuster, $28) documents the work that led to the re-openings and re-prosecutions of some of the nation’s most notorious murders, including the 1963 assassination of NAACP leader Medgar Evers; the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist church in Birmingham that killed four girls; the 1966 firebombing of Vernon Dahmer; and the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers (commonly known as the “Mississippi Burning” case). These four cases were landmarks in the civil rights movement, and since then, we’ve seen an all-time high of hate crimes in America. As Mitchell writes: “We must remember, to point our compass toward justice. We must remember, and then act.”
With Race Against Time, readers get an unputdownable suspense story about a chapter in American history. It’s unbelievable that killers had been walking around in broad daylight, their crimes unpunished. Like reading a nonfiction version of a John Grisham novel, the book is filled with courtroom twists and heart-pounding one-on-one confrontations with killers. Mitchell’s investigations of unpunished killings by the KKK have hardly been popular. Some readers of his stories complained bitterly in letters to the editor. Others cancelled their subscriptions. Klansmen have repeatedly threatened him. In addition to his reporting on these cases, he has exposed injustices, incompetence and corruption, helping lead to investigations, exonerations, firings and reforms of state agencies. The book also reveals the courage of those involved in the civil rights movement. And this book shows the power of the press in a nation that desperately needs accountability