My suspicion is that what happened in Mississippi was too personal and painful for Corbett to turn into a book. But I have come to believe that there has never been a better time for this story to be told. (Pre.5)
Hmm…is it just us, or does it seem like Alex Cross is talking about racism in modern society? He makes sure to point out how timely this book is, which makes us think about whether racism is something that has gone away or if it still exists. There might not be lynchings like in the book these days, but some of these issues linger on.
"Just remember one thing, Ben. That was a black boy who helped us. He was the only one who helped." (9.20)
As Ben tells us about his mom getting sick, he remembers an important detail about that experience. His mom made sure he knew it was the Black boy who saved her. It might seem like she's focusing on race a lot, but this helps Ben battle segregation and inequality later on.
"I'm not a selfish woman. I admire the cases you take, really I do. I want the poor people and the colored people to be helped. But I also want something for my girls and me. Is that so wrong?" (11.8)
Meg wants her hubby to help people out, she just doesn't want it to keep coming at her expense. In other words, fighting racism comes at a price no matter your skin color.
"The white man doesn't hate the colored man," he said. "The white man is just afraid of the colored man." (20.16)
This is one theory about why there are problems between the races, but it leaves us with a bunch of questions. What exactly is the white man afraid of? Does fear explain white people's actions in the text? We can't help but wonder if this is more of an attempt at justification than an actual explanation.
The War between the States had been officially over for forty-three years but had never actually ended in the South. The Confederate battle flag still flew higher than Old Glory, at least at our courthouse. (36.13)
That would be the Civil War being talked about here. Importantly, we can see that ideas about race go way back—so it's not just a matter of telling everyone to get along. Ideology and notions of different races formed over several generations and are hard to change.
"See, when you're colored, you always about this close—" he held up his fingers, indicating a tiny space—" to sayin' the wrong word. Or lookin' the wrong way. And that means you this far from gettin' beat up, or kicked, or punched, or cursed. Or gettin' strung up and killed by the KKK." (38.7)
Abraham warns his grandkids about the unfair rules for Black people in the community. It's a sad truth, but he has to drill this into them to keep them safe. The reality is that these kids are perceived as different before they even open their mouths to speak, and it's dangerous.
THIS IS THE WAY WE COOK COONS DOWN HERE. THIS IS THE WAY WE WILL COOK YOU. WE KNOW WHY YOU ARE HERE. GO HOME, NIGGER-LOVER. (39.19)
The warning Ben receives is on the back of a photograph of a man being lynched. It's disturbing, to say the least. Not only does the photo seem to parade around the fact that lynching is taking place (scary), it also shows how dangerous Ben's operation is. Just by investigating lynching, he's aligned with Black men and women, and as such, against white men. Or that's how the White Raiders see it at least.
Judge Corbett and men of his class had gradually enshrined that inequality in law, and the highest court in the land had upheld its finding that "separate but equal" was good enough for everybody. (92.8)
According to Ben's dad, Black people have it just fine. Who cares that they aren't integrated into society and work like slaves for white men? That should be good enough. Even judges and police officers in town think racial equality is a joke.
"This case is not about race. It is not about the black versus the white. This case is much easier than that. It's a simple matter of justice." (103.22)
Despite what Jonah wants the jury to believe, every case is about race in Eudora. It's clear that Black citizens can't get a fair shake because of their race, which makes justice little more than an illusion for them.
"Nearly every one tells me the lynching reports are greatly exaggerated. There are no lynchings in their towns or districts. The Negro is living in freedom and comfort, and the white southerner is his boon friend and ally." (14.5)
At first, we're not sure what to believe: President Roosevelt claims that politicians report back no lynching or problems in the South, while newspapers give gory details about them taking place. It's clear that race is an issue, we're just not sure how big of an issue at this point.
"If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." He snapped the Bible closed with a flourish and held it high in the air. (3.17)
Quoting the Bible is a nice touch. After all, it stresses the importance of telling the truth and not lying to people. But we'd also like to point out that this is just a tactic. The lawyer isn't really interested in the truth, or what the Bible says about it for that matter; he's more interested in getting Gracie thrown in jail and hanged. Truth is just a façade he's using to do that.
"I'll let you in on our destination before we commence— the Kingdom of Truth. Few who set out on the journey toward the Kingdom of Truth ever reach their destination. But today, gentlemen, I can promise you, that is where we shall arrive." (3.7)
In Ben's first trial, the opposing lawyer, Carter Ames, makes a big show of finding the truth. He even comes up with a cool catchphrase about it ("Kingdom of Truth"), but he's not fooling anybody. Ben points out that Carter hides behind the truth to get the jury to like him and support his side of the case.
"You and I are living in two different marriages, Ben. It's the truth, a sad truth. I'll admit it," said Meg. (11.2)
Ouch. When Meg lowers the book on Ben about their marriage, he's shocked. It seems like he was completely unaware that his wife felt this way. Notice how Meg makes sure to say this is the truth as a way of lessening the blow. No one is calling her a liar, but it helps make her case.
"What in hell is the truth— the absolute truth? And what can a president do to stop these awful things from happening?" (14.12)
Leave it to President Roosevelt to question what truth is. In some ways, the whole book is an exploration of this question. Ben is searching for it on his mission; Abraham and his friends want the truth of their unfair treatment to be acknowledged and changed. Yet the White Raiders don't seem to think their account of events is even factual. So what is truth? We'll leave that one to you, Shmoopers.
Besides being funny, every word he spoke was the absolute truth. The bigger the lies he pretended to tell, the more truthful the stories became. (56.9)
When Ben and Elizabeth go to see Mark Twain, Ben makes this observation his favorite author. Even though Twain writes fiction, Ben thinks about his tales as truthful because they speak about real-life situations and emotions. This suggests that truth is about more than what technically takes place.
"What are you doing?" I said. "You can't hang him, he might be telling the truth!" I felt my whole body shaking. "Why don't you look into what he says?" (79.4)
When the KKK wants to hang a man for supposedly lying about selling land, Ben is outraged. He's not sure who is telling the truth about the land, but it doesn't matter because no one should just kill someone because of a lie.
"That is right, gentlemen of the jury. A bedtime story. We have two versions being told here. Mr. Curtis has told you a fairy story, and I have told you the truth. As God above knows it to be!" (104.31)
Loophole Lewis manages to poke holes in Jonah and Ben's case, not because it's weak, but because he's used to spinning the truth to his advantage. He makes sure to call their side a tall tale so everyone recognizes the fiction in it. Truth can be distorted and manipulated until people aren't sure what's the truth and what's a lie.
In that steamy courtroom, ripe with the smell of sweat and Rose of Sharon eau de toilette, the good people of the Eudora Quarters took the stand and swore to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. And they did. And then Maxwell Lewis ripped them apart. (112.13)
During the trial, truth stands out. Why? For one thing, everyone is told to tell the truth on the stand. For another, Lewis is lying through his teeth left and right. It's sad for Ben to realize that the truth doesn't matter as much as a believable, well-told story in the courtroom.
"Oh, Moody. Those jurors have lived here their whole lives. They don't care who's telling the truth and who's lying! The phony warrant? Some of the jurors were probably down at the town hall when Eversman was writing it up." (115.25)
Jonah appreciates that Moody wants to help them, but he points out that she's misunderstanding things. After she lies on the stand to help their case, Jonah tells her that no one even cares about the truth of what happened that night, so there's no use in trying to uncover it or share it with anyone.
"The people who wash your clothes and pick your crops can tell the truth. The truth is not based on how much money you have. It's based on…the truth." (122.21).
During Lewis's summation, Ben is outraged. Not only does the guy lie, he insinuates that only rich, white people can tell the truth or even know the difference between the truth and a lie. Even though his response is only in his head, he tells us that truth is objective, end of discussion.
He strode to the prosecution table and lifted a worn brown Bible. He opened it to a page he seemed to know by heart and began to read aloud. (3.17)
Like all lawyers in the book, Carter Ames knows the value of quoting from Bible to win a case. Here he makes sure to drive the point home to the jurors that what he's saying is in the Bible, so it must be right. His assumption that his jurors care about what the Bible teaches shows how important religion is in this town.
As a boy I'd walked past those churches a thousand times. I'd heard the clapping and the fervent amens. Now that had all gotten blended in with a fast-march tempo and the syncopated melody of the old work songs. Mix it all together, speed it up, and somehow, from that corner of the South, down around where Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas meet up, the music came out ragtime. (7.10)
As Ben thinks about what religion meant as a kid, he comes up with this mental picture of church. It's full of happy songs and loud choruses. Religion means something a lot different to him now, but it's interesting to see how exactly this has changed.
"These are papers I've been collecting on the situation: reports of the most horrible occurrences, some police records. Things it's hard for a Christian man to credit. Especially since the perpetrators of these crimes are men who claim to be Christians." (13.12)
President Roosevelt is shocked that Christian men could hang people for no reason. Perhaps that's because the Bible teaches not to kill people. Yet his outrage also shows the hypocrisy in society: even though some men claim to follow the Bible, they are as racist and violent as they come.
We kept far enough back so as not to be seen. I had not been a very religious boy up till then, but I found myself praying for George Pearson to get away. Please, God, I thought, make George run fast. (16.5)
When Ben sees George beaten in the streets as a kid, he prays. Notice how he says he wasn't very religious, but he still thinks about praying because he doesn't have any other options. We're not sure Ben has changed very much when it comes to religion, but we do know he believes some sort of god is out there listening to him.
"Ain't no Jesus," she said. "There ain't no Jesus for me." She wept so terribly I could not hold myself back. I knelt by her in the clearing. (43.11)
One of the many heartbreaking moments in the book is when a woman (Annie) weeps over a body and seemingly has no hope left. Her comment that Jesus isn't there for her strikes Ben as sad because religion is important in this town. But you know what else is important in this town? Hurting Black people all the freaking time. So we get why a Black person might have a crisis of faith.
I have prayed much about this matter, and have spoken to my father about the situation. I should have known. Meg had consulted the one god in her life, the almighty Colonel Wilfred A. Haverbrook, U.S. Army, Ret. (44.14)
The Dear John letter from Meg reveals how Ben's wife thinks of her family and religion. It seems like she cares more about what her dad says than anyone else. Ben doesn't get why he's such a god to her—or why she would take his word over the Bible's, for that matter. It bugs him, to say the least.
"We had slavery when I was a boy. There was nothing wrong with slavery. The local pulpit told us God approved of it. If there were passages in the Bible that disapproved of slavery, they were not read aloud by the pastors." (56.13)
Mark Twain points out that religion and racism aren't mutually exclusive. It might be disturbing to think about, but many pastors didn't say anything against slavery when it was going on. His point? Sometimes religion doesn't have all the answers we need in life.
"The white man killed Hiram!" he hollered again. "But my friends, we are not like the white man! We cannot allow ourselves to be like that. The Bible tells us what to do. Jesus tells us what to do. It's plain to see. We have to do as Jesus did, we have to turn the other cheek." (63.10)
At Hiram's funeral, the pastor reminds the congregation how they should behave. Even though they read the same Bible as the white members of the community, they act much differently—the people from the Quarter seem to actually follow the ideas in the Bible, whereas many of the white folks in Eudora ignore biblical ideals whenever it suits them.
The men stood around in their white sheets with their hoods off, conducting the most ordinary small-town meeting. They discussed the collection of dues, a donation they'd recently made to a widowed young mother, nominations for a committee to represent the local chapter at the county meeting in McComb. (77.19)
How much the Ku Klux Klan resembles a church is a shock to Ben. They seem to genuinely care about their members and their families, and they even take up a collection for the widows, just like some churches do. It's troubling to Ben that an organization that promotes violence and hate (read: the KKK) could be so similar to one that supposedly preaches peace (church).
To my child's eyes the old Pike County Courthouse looked exactly like a church. The second-floor gallery where the colored people got to sit was like the choir loft. The benches below were the pews. And my father stood at the high altar in the front of the room, delivering thunderous sermons and running the whole thing like a very strict minister who happened to wield a hammer instead of a Bible. (97.3)
It's interesting that Ben pictured the courthouse like a church when he was young. So does that make his dad god-like? And if so, whose interpretation of the Bible does he fit into most neatly?
"I had the bone-handle carving knife in my hand. Not for her—I don't know, just in case of something. When she run at me, I turned. She run straight up on that knife, sir. I swear I never meant to do it." (6.27)
Gracie tells Ben that she did actually kill her boss. Oops. This is a big moment for Ben, who worries about racial bias in the court system, only to find that his client lied to him. He feels betrayed when he learns she actually did the murder in the first place.
I know that my decision may strike you as a terrible mistake on my part. Yet I believe it is the only correct solution to our dilemma. We must be honest with each other and ourselves. I think it best if you do not come home at this time. I will be in touch with you by post or wire, as I begin the steps necessary to bring about a most painful but inevitable result. (44.16)
What could be more of a betrayal than when Ben's own wife ditches him? The letter from Meg wounds Ben deeply, not because he isn't anticipating it (because let's face it, he is), but because he doesn't want this news from his wife. He expects Meg to be by his side forever.
But inside, I felt another, more disturbing pain. I had been beaten and left for dead. I had disappeared from the world, and hardly anyone had come looking for me. I mattered to virtually no one. Meg. Elizabeth. My father. My daughters. Jacob, my childhood best friend. The entire town of Eudora. I had mostly been forgotten. (71.4)
Poor Ben. After his lynching, Ben is physically hurt of course, but his emotional wounds can't be stitched up. He feels that no one cares about him anymore, plus he feels betrayed by his friends and family in Eudora. They aren't there for him in the way that he wants them to be.
"Maybe you'll see that we ain't all monsters," he said. "We're just family men. We got to look out for our women and protect what's rightfully ours." (77.15)
Jacob claims this about the KKK. He believes there's nothing wrong with being a klansman because everyone in Eudora is. With that, Ben realizes just how different the two of them have become: Jacob is contributing to violence against Black people, while Ben is working hard to fight it.
If Jacob hadn't been a friend my whole life, I would have punched him right then. "Listen to yourself, Jacob. You just killed a man. Do you hear me? You killed him." (80.11)
After the hanging, Ben tries to reason with Jacob, but it does no good. Check out what he says about Jacob being his friend his whole life—it's the only thing that stops Ben from sucker punching his buddy right in the face. Even though Jacob deceived him, Ben still thinks of him as a friend and treats him that way, too.
"Elizabeth," I said. "You already are a help to me. Just knowing that I have your support and trust means everything to me." (111.11)
When she offers to help, Elizabeth seems sincere…or at least that's how she seems to Ben. We can't help but wonder whether his judgment is clouded by the fact that he was once in love with her and still thinks about her romantically sometimes, though. It's only because Ben is overly trusting that Elizabeth gets away with her twisty plot.
Sweet Jesus in heaven! Jonah and I had never discussed this with her. We had certainly never planned for her to say such a thing. But say it she had: "…and showed me their search warrant." With those words Moody changed the whole atmosphere of the courtroom and the direction of this entire murder trial. (114.1)
As Moody takes the stand, Ben and Jonah are sure they've been double-crossed. They feel betrayed by Moody because she out-right lies on the stand. But as they keep listening to Moody's plan, they realize she's actually helping them out.
The words stabbed me in the heart. I felt my throat closing and thought I might be sick. (117.11)
This is how Ben describes the feeling he gets when he finds out Elizabeth betrayed him. Of course he's bummed over the fact that he won't get to use the photos in the trial, but he's more annoyed over the fact that his part-time lover stabbed him in the back.
But I knew exactly what my father was up to. For the spectators and journalists, some of whom he had allowed into the courtroom to hear the closing arguments, Judge Corbett was showing himself to be a courageous man, boldly making a statement of racial tolerance. (123.11)
Ben sees right through his dad's schemes. It might seem like his dad wants equality, but really he's swindled Ben's quest for it from day one. Even though he and his dad aren't close to begin with, Ben feels a pang listening to his dad drum on about idealism when he thwarted it at every turn.
"How could you do this? The one man I thought I could trust!" (78.4)
Here Ben questions Jacob at the Ku Klux Klan meeting. His shock shows just how betrayed Ben feels by his friend—they used to have a lot in common, but clearly they've gone their separate ways.
"What genuinely scares the white man is that the colored is going to suck up all the jobs from the whites. You just got out of Memphis, you saw how it is. It's the same in all the big cities— Nashville, New Orleans, Atlanta. You got thousands and thousands of Negroes running around looking for jobs. And every one of 'em willing to work cheaper than the white man, be they a field hand, a factory hand, or what have you." (20.18)
According to a stranger on a train, white people in the South are deeply afraid of change because they want to make sure their jobs and homes don't get taken away. What we don't get is how this connects to lynching Black men. You can't be so afraid of change that you kill everyone who might possibly in some way alter your life, right?
"The news does travel down to Mississippi eventually. And everybody I know says you're the most progressive young lawyer in Washington." I had never heard that word pronounced with a more audible sneer. (23.5)
Ben's dad hates the fact that he's progressive. In fact, he even says it like it's a dirty word. What we see, though, is that his dad is resistant to change. He doesn't see why Ben has to work hard to change the world when everything is going just fine.
Theodore Roosevelt hadn't sent me to Eudora to take a rickety bicycle ride down memory lane. I had a job to do, and it might even help change history. (31.5)
As we recall, President Roosevelt wants Ben to go to Eudora and report back on the lynching going on. But instead, Ben takes that as a directive to start changing racist attitudes down there.
"Be aware. There are forces at work here that would like nothing better than to take away your freedoms, your right to live life the way you have always lived it here. I warn you to do what you must to make sure that does not happen. Gentlemen, be alert. And acquit these three innocent men." (122.17)
Lewis's warning about change to the jury comes out like a threat. He wants the jury to find his clients not guilty not because they are innocent, but because they shouldn't let things change in their community. His tactic works, too. Maybe it's racism, or maybe it's about fear of the unknown, but the jury eats every word up.
"But bad as it was," Abraham went on, "that's when things begun to change. A big change at the first, then they took it back. But what happened in that courtroom…that'll change it. You just wait. You'll live to see it." (127.10)
Back during the Civil War, plenty of people died over big issues like slavery and ownership. Even though it was a dark time in American history, it also helped pave the way for change. Abraham remembers blood everywhere, and then slowly but surely, attitudes shifted and rules changed.
"Papaw keeps saying it takes a long time for things to change. Well, that's fine for him—he's almost run out of time. I don't want to be old and dying before anything ever starts to get better." (128.10)
Moody gets frustrated with her patient and kind grandpa, Abraham. She gets what he means about change taking a long time to work itself out, but she doesn't want to keep waiting around. She wants—and deserves—to be treated better now.
"Why, Ben?" he croaked. "Why'd you have to come back and ruin our nice little town?" (134.8)
Jacob questions Ben's motives for coming back to Eudora as a way of pointing out how he is afraid of change. From where he sits, everything was just fine before Ben came down South and ruined things with the trial.This only takes Jacob's side into account, though, and life certainly wasn't fine for everyone living in the Quarter.
Four white men lay trussed up in the dirt in front of Abraham's house. I remembered Abraham talking about the earth running red with blood—and I saw blood, tiny rivers of it, here on his home ground. (136.6)
When Ben sees blood on the ground, he remembers Abraham's words about change in the Civil War. Here he insinuates change has begun. We want to believe that's the case, but he doesn't stick around long enough to show us whether or not that's true. So what do you think? Is change happening?
"The more progressive citizens see you as a kind of abolitionist, a figure of progress in the march of civilization toward full equality. And the coloreds in the South see you as some kind of protector, a hero. It's damn good!" (139.8)
President Roosevelt praises Ben for his efforts in Eudora, but this doesn't stop Ben from feeling lousy. He's not sure he's a "figure of progress" at all since they lost the trial. These words are a good reminder, though, that just because we don't see change, doesn't mean it's not happening.
"Nothing needs reforming," he said by way of beginning, "so much as other people's habits." The audience roared in recognition of a universal truth. (56.3)
No matter how you feel about Mark Twain, the guy knows how to tell a joke. We get the sense that he's playing with the audience here. While he's pretending to be chit-chatting in a light-hearted way, he's actually berating the audience for living in the past. Embrace change, people.
"Not afraid in the way you think. He's not afraid the colored man's going to rape his wife or his daughter. Although, let's be honest, if you turned a colored man loose on white women with no laws against it, there's no telling what might happen." (20.17)
Notice how a stranger on a train tells Ben how scary Black men are. It's telling that many people—even characters we don't know—seem to think this way. They use the threat or fear of violence as a call to action, which only spreads more violence.
"You never seen a nail made out of human bone?" said Abraham. I shuddered, reaching up to haul the plank down. (34.12)
Of all the violence that happens in the novel, this one creeps us out big time. It's disturbing that Black men are hanged and cut up to pieces. In fact, Abraham even tells Ben of toes and fingers being sold in town for fun. No one even cares about the violence it seems, so long as it's against Black people. Ugh.
"There was a couple boys sitting on the sidewalk downtown. They was talkin' to each other quiet like, telling about this strike of colored men up in Illinois. Well, sir, somebody overheard what they said, and next thing you know a bunch of men jump on these boys. One of 'em, they knocked out all his teeth." (38.11)
As Ben gets to know Abraham and his grandkids more, he learns stories about the violence against Black men in the community. All of these stories have a common thread: there's no reason for the violence. It's completely senseless and a huge overreaction to the so-called "crimes" the Black men are accused of.
The rope was cutting under my jaw, but it had not gone tight. I got my hand up, somehow worked my fingers between the rope and my neck. I dangled and kicked as if I could kick my way out of the noose. They are hanging you, boy, was the chant that went through my head, over and over, like a song, an executioner's song. (67.17)
As Ben hangs from a tree, he describes the brutality he's experienced. Everything—and we mean everything—on his body hurts. The only reason he's even targeted is because he befriended people in the Quarter. And because of this, we see the violent ideology of racism coming to its physical conclusion.
I could plainly see that it had taken a sizable chunk of flesh out of his cheek; blood oozed down his chin. That side of his face was black with gunpowder. (87.32)
When the White Raiders shoot L.J., he brushes it off, but Ben still describes it. Everyone who takes a stand against the KKK or White Raiders is injured in some way. It doesn't matter whether people are Black or white—if they are against the White Raiders, they get hurt. It's clear they are a very violent community.
"It's time to put an end to it— the violence, all the hatred against coloreds in this town. These Ku Kluxer gangs are tearing Eudora apart, limb from limb. People are living in fear, black and white. You know me, Phineas. I've lived here all my life. I was there tonight. I saw what happened. I demand as a citizen of this town that you arrest these men for murder. Right now." (88.10)
L.J. demands that the chief of police arrest people right that instant. His reasoning? The violence has gone on long enough; everyone keeps getting hurt, and there's no end in sight. Luckily the police chief listens and does just that. The bad news, though, is that it doesn't curb the violence much.
"Suddenly, gentlemen, all is pandemonium—uproar and violence and chaos. Men firing guns everywhere. Glass flying. Women screaming. Suddenly there are men all around the house, trying to shoot their way in. Trying to kill the old man. Trying to kill his granddaughter." (103.14)
Jonah's retelling of what happened that night in the Quarter makes plain the destruction of the White Raiders. They weren't just there to "deliver a search warrant" like Loophole Lewis claims—instead they hurt a bunch of people for no reason at all. Senseless violence, anyone?
I felt blood running down where the whip was cutting into flesh and then Eversman was on me, hitting with both fists at once. But I was stronger, and angrier too. I managed to roll over and fling him on his back. Seizing the slack end of the whip, I wrapped it around his neck so tight that with one hard tug I could break his windpipe. (133.11)
At Abraham's after the trial, Ben inflicts violence on someone else. His description sounds an awful lot like his own hanging. The only difference? Ben knows when to stop. He doesn't keep beating on the White Raiders after they've stopped, so while he does fight back, he never uses violence just for the sake of it.
A rock came hurtling across the veranda to shatter the porcelain urn on a pedestal behind me. Another rock crashed through a stained-glass panel beside the front door. (110.4)
When L.J. helps Ben and Jonah with the trial, a mob shows up at his house, threatening his wife and daughter. It's clear that the other side uses violence to force people into submission, whereas Ben and posse only use it as a last resort.
"He had no choice. He saw the blood. He smelled it—that's how fresh it was. The blood of their victims was on the defendants' hands when we brought them to him. It was on the toes of their boots." (121.9)
The smell of blood is a particularly stomach-churning idea. We hear more and more details about the crime during the trial, complete with sights, smells, and sounds. It ain't pretty.
When interviewed, Chief of Police Phineas Eversman said that he was unaware of any lynching that previous evening in Eudora. A visitor in Chief Eversman's office, the respected Eudora Justice Everett Corbett, agreed. "I too know nothing about a lynching in Eudora." (26.9)
According to the newspapers, nothing is going on down in Eudora. But we know this isn't true because there are reports of what happened at a lynching. It's clear that people like the police chief and Judge Corbett are more interested in not getting involved than they are in telling the truth or making a safe community.
"We're not asking for public displays any more than you are," said Wells-Barnett, warming to the discussion. "As you recall, sir, when you invited Booker Washington to dine at the White House, it caused a political headache for you and accomplished absolutely nothing for the cause of colored people." (48.12)
W.E.B. Du Bois and Ida B. Wells-Barnett have a secret meeting with President Roosevelt regarding race. To put it another way, they urge him to do something about the problem. They understand he can't march in the streets with them, but something needs to be done. Instead, the President just sits back and waits.
"Why does the crowd lift no hand or voice in protest?" Twain said. "Only because it would be unpopular to do it, I think. Each man is afraid of his neighbor's disapproval—a thing which, to the general run of the race, is more dreaded than wounds and death." (56.27)
Mark Twain talks about people standing by when Ben and Elizabeth hear him speak. He points out that people don't enjoy watching a lynching—they are more interested in going with the flow so no one turns on them. We see this happening in Eudora when Ben gets pummeled the minute he sticks his neck out for his Black friends.
I was still waiting for an answer from the White House. Maybe my telegram had been too concise? Too curt or disrespectful to send to the president? Maybe Roosevelt had forgotten about me? (58.1)
To call Ben frustrated here would be an understatement. He's confused. Why wouldn't the President get back to him? He's been sent down there by the guy, and then hears nothing back from his telegram. To Ben, it feels like the guy has given up because he's no longer active in solving the problem.
There were groans from the congregation. It seemed to me that most of them had been turning the other cheek their entire lives. (63.11)
In the church, Ben witnesses another type of passivity. Some people sit by and do nothing to stop the hate spreading like wildfire all around town, and others do nothing when they are the ones being targeted. Here we see that sometimes inaction can be a good thing—if it's done in the right way.
"You mean, because we haven't heard from Roosevelt?" I asked. "I don't understand that at all. I almost got hanged for him." (72.17)
Check out what Ben says about his hanging being for Roosevelt. It's not merely that he was hanged by the White Raiders, or got himself into trouble for doing what's right—he directly blames Roosevelt for his suffering in Eurdoa, which makes the President's lack of response all the more annoying.
"Look, I ain't gonna stand here and argue with the likes of you," she said. "I don't know how I could make it any clearer. We got no rooms available for you. So if you don't mind, I will thank you to go on and leave the house now." (74.7)
Once Ben's made an enemy of the White Raiders, Maybelle doesn't want to get involved with his problems. She tells him he can't stay at her place anymore. She's not one of the KKK or out shooting people like the White Raiders, but we're not sure she's any better than them either since she sits by and lets that stuff happen by not standing up to it.
"Those men must have thought I'd forgotten all about them." He laughed, a big booming Roosevelt laugh. "I think I showed great wisdom not to respond to their first report, but to let them draw their own conclusions as to what should be done." (89.21)
Roosevelt must think highly of himself—or so it seems when he congratulates himself for all of Ben's work in Eudora. It doesn't seem fair or right, and even Roosevelt's henchman (Hensen) is floored by the President's arrogance here.
"White men charged for killing black men, right down there in the heart of Dixie. Now let Du Bois and that Wells-Barnett woman try to tell me I have ignored the Negro problem!" (89.9)
Roosevelt comes across as pretty ignorant here. He's proud of the work that Ben's doing, but he uses it to pretend that he's been a part of the change in Eudora. In reality, though, he's sitting pretty in the oval office while Ben gets his hands—and neck—dirty.
"That's why you didn't answer my telegrams?"
"It wasn't convenient for me to hear from you yet," he said. "But then we had the most magnificent stroke of luck when the Raiders Trial came along!" (139.14-15)
Ben can hardly believe his ears when Roosevelt calls the trial lucky—it nearly tore the town apart and only took place because people died. It's clear that the President is only willing to get involved as it suits him, and Ben notices how selfish and wrong that is for a leader.
"Maybe you'll see that we ain't all monsters," he said. "We're just family men. We got to look out for our women and protect what's rightfully ours." (77.15)
According to Jacob, the KKK is full of family men who are just trying to do what's right. His comments are particularly upsetting because he's just helped lynch a man, but it's interesting to think about the fact that he believes he's bringing justice about in doing just that. Creepy.
Everyone knew that Judge Corbett was "fair" and "honest" and "sensible." Judge Corbett "understands the true meaning of justice."
"That is exactly what I am afraid of," I said. (92.5-6)
Too bad the real meaning of justice doesn't mean all that much in Eudora. While everyone praises Judge Corbett for being fair, we see him help the defense cover up a fake search warrant. Justice is often tangled up with white supremacy in this book, only making it harder to Black people to get any justice.
Dominating the wall above the judge's bench was an enormous Fattorini & Sons regulator clock nearly as long as a grandfather clock, with a carved dark-wood case, elegant Roman numerals, and a pair of gleaming brass pendulums. Growing up, I always thought of it as the Clock of Justice. (97.9)
It's funny how Ben's ideals haven't changed over the years, but his assessment of the courts have. He still wants justice just as much—if not more—as when he was a kid, but he realizes that sometimes that's not what is offered in the courts.
"One of the men they killed was white. The other was black. I didn't mention any of this to you. And do you know why? I'll tell you why—because the pursuit of justice knows no color! The pursuit of justice admits only that which is fair, and honest, and true." (103.20)
Wouldn't it be awesome if race didn't matter in the trial? Unfortunately, justice isn't the name of the game in Eudora; it's just a figurehead that everyone pretends they want. Jonah only mentions race as a way of addressing the elephant in the room.
Since the night we had convinced Phineas to arrest the White Raiders, I'd known that if this trial ever came about, winning three guilty verdicts would be close to impossible. But this was the first time I had ever considered that it might be completely impossible. (112.1)
He could say that again. Ben isn't fighting in a fair system that allows for impartiality. From the time the case begins, it's clear that the Judge is on the defendant's side and doesn't care much about what's right or true.
He did the honest, moral, upright thing—and that's not always easy to do. He arrested these men and charged them, and he saw that they were brought to trial. He may have changed his mind since then about some things, but the fact remains that Chief Eversman knew instinctively that these men had to be stopped. (121.7)
In his summation, Ben points out that the chief of police stood up for what's right, but that his decision to do so was unusual. And since that night, he's done nothing but help the other side. Perhaps the reason justice is so hard to come by in Eudora is because no one cares about doing what's right.
"And what you decide in that jury room will influence…for a very long time…the way we live our lives in this town." (123.7)
This comes to us straight from Judge Corbett to the jurors. He knows the weight of their decision and wants to make sure they understand it, too. Notice how he focuses on the impact the decision will have on their society, not on making a fair decision. Ugh.
I know that this might anger you, but I must tell the truth. I am convinced beyond any doubt that I am doing the right thing when I try to use my skills as a lawyer to help those who can't find justice anywhere else. (124.26)
Ben's letter to Meg is honest but gives her a tough pill to swallow. In it, he tells her that he cares about the work he's doing, because someone needs to give justice to Black people in a world where no one will.
"I know you're going to think I'm nothin' but a cold, ungrateful girl. But I don't just feel bad—I'm angry. Damn angry. Oh yeah, you did your best. And Mr. Curtis did his best. And Mr. Stringer spent all that money…but those murderers walked away free." (128.8)
After the trial, Moody gives it to Ben straight. She's ticked off. Yep, change takes time, and everyone worked really hard on the case, but it's not good enough—there's nothing fair about murderers walking away without getting in trouble. We couldn't agree more, Moody.
Every blow they struck was violent payback for a lynching, a hanging, a beating, a murder. I heard the thud of club against flesh, the crack of rock striking bone. Terrible cries erupted as the colored men overwhelmed the Raiders, avenging the lynchings of their brothers, the oppression and torture and murder of fathers and friends. (132.22)
As the Black people respond to yet another White Raider attack, Ben thinks about what they are doing. He pictures their fight as a form of justice—finally people in the Quarter get a chance for a little payback for what they've suffered over the years.