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When evil lived in Laurel : the "White Knights" and the murder of Vernon Dahmer
2021
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Library Journal Review
Wilkie (The Fall of the House of Zeus) narrates the downfall of the White Knights of the Mississippi Klu Klux Klan, a chapter that was active during the civil rights era in Laurel, Mississippi. In this book, the White Knights are seen primarily through the eyes of Tom Landrum, an FBI informant who infiltrated and reported on them for four years. Repelled by the White Knights' activities and worried about the potential repercussions of his membership, Landrum informed on their terrorist acts throughout southern Mississippi, which culminated in the firebombing and murder of the Black civil rights activist Vernon Dahmer. Following Dahmer's murder, the White Knights fractured, and Landrum continued to dutifully report on their infighting and power struggles. Wilkie relates all this, as well as the FBI's investigation of Dahmer's murder and use of extralegal methods to obtain confessions and cooperation. Wilkie also reports on the arrests and trials of the White Knights and briefly connects their white supremacist activities to the present day. The book relies on extensive primary sources and includes several photographs, in order to provide a complete picture of the period. VERDICT An interesting account of civil rights-era Mississippi, although it's largely focused on the perspective of white men. Recommended for readers interested in civil rights history.--Rebekah Kati, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Publishers Weekly Review
Journalist Wilkie (The Fall of the House of Zeus) delivers a tension-filled account of an FBI informant's efforts to bring a notoriously violent chapter of the Ku Klux Klan to justice in the 1960s. Wilkie traces Tom Landrum's decision to infiltrate the White Knights in his hometown of Laurel, Miss., back to his disgust over seeing how enthusiastically a local crowd cheered for the execution of a Black prisoner in 1951. Fourteen years later, Landrum, after serving in the U.S. Air Force, playing college football, and returning home to become a teacher and youth court counselor, was recruited by an FBI agent to go undercover with the White Knights. In 1966, Vernon Dahmer, a grocery store owner and founder of a local NAACP chapter who was leading a campaign to register Black voters, was killed when the White Knights firebombed his house. Landrum's meticulous note-taking and insights into the inner workings of the White Knights helped bring some of those responsible for Dahmer's murder to justice, though imperial wizard Sam Bowers wasn't convicted for ordering the killing until 1998. Drawing on Landrum's contemporaneous journals, FBI reports, and interviews with Landrum and his wife, Wilkie vividly conveys the turmoil of the era and the high stakes of the mission. This real-life thriller is a worthy tribute to the courage of those who put everything on the line for civil rights. (June)
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