Fire in a Canebrake by Laura Wexler
The Last Mass Lynching in America

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On that July evening in 1946, the leader counted aloud and the mob of white men fired. Seconds later, the leader counted again, "One, two, three," and the mob fired once more. After the third and final volley of gunshots, the white men got into their cars and drove off, leaving the bullet-ridden bodies of two young black men and two young black women lying in the dirt near Moore's Ford Bridge in rural Walton County, Georgia. Since that summer evening, there have never been as many victims lynched in a single day in America.

Now, more than a half century later, Laura Wexler offers the first full account of the Moore's Ford lynching, a murder so brutal it stunned the nation and motivated President Harry Truman to put civil rights at the forefront of his national agenda. With the style of a novelist, the authority of a historian, and the tenacity of a journalist, Wexler recounts the lynching and the resulting four-month FBI investigation. Drawing from interviews, archival sources, and an uncensored FBI report, she takes us deep into the landscape of 1946 Georgia, creating unforgettable portraits of sharecroppers, sheriffs, bootleggers, the victims, and the men who may have killed them.

Fire in a Canebrake pursues the legacy of the Moore's Ford lynching into the present, exploring the conflicting memories of Walton County's black and white citizens and examining the testimony of a white man who claims he was a secret witness to the crime. In 2001, the governor of Georgia issued a new reward for information leading to the arrest of the lynchers. Several suspects named in the FBI's 1946 investigation are still alive, and there is no statute of limitations on the crime of murder.

Fire in a Canebrake -- a phrase local people used to describe the sound of the fatal gunshots -- is a moving and often frightening tale of violence, sex, and lies. It is also a disturbing snapshot of a divided nation on the brink of the civil rights movement and a haunting meditation on race, history, and the struggle for truth.

About Laura Wexler

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Laura Wexler has published work in The Oxford American, DoubleTake, Utne Reader, and elsewhere. She has taught writing at the University of Georgia and Johns Hopkins University and lives in Baltimore. For more information, visit
Published August 13, 2013 by Scribner. 292 pages
Genres: History, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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While working at the University of Georgia student newspaper in 1997, Wexler read a historical account of the shotgun lynching of two black men and two black women in Moore's Ford, Georgia.

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Publishers Weekly

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Following clues from published newspaper reports, FBI and legal records, and interviews conducted in 1997 with the participants who were still alive, Wexler plots a dramatic narrative involving sex, jealousy and violence, with a surprise witness to the murders who surfaces in 1991 (43 years after...

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