About the Author
Jason Morgan Ward is assistant professor of history at Mississippi State University.
Even at the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, when the clarion call for equality and justice echoed around the country, few volunteers ventured into Clarke County, Mississippi. Fewer still remained. Located just south of Neshoba County, where three civil rights workers had been murdered during 1964's Freedom Summer, Clarke lay squarely in what many considered Mississippi's, and thus America's, meanest corner. Local African Americans knew why the movement failed there. Some spoke of a bottomless hole in the snaking Chickasawhay River in the town of Shubuta, where white vigilantes had for decades dumped the bodies of murdered African Americans. Others more spoke of a "hanging bridge" that spanned that same muddy creek.
Spanning three generations, Hanging Bridge reveals what happened in Clarke County in 1919 and 1942, when two horrific lynchings took place: the first, of four young people, including a pregnant woman; the second, of two teenaged boys accused of harassing a white girl.Jason Ward's painstaking and haunting reconstruction of these events traces a legacy of violence that reflects the American experience of race, from the depths of Jim Crow through to the growing power of the NAACP and national awareness of what was taking places even in the country's bleakest racial landscapes. Connecting the lynchings to each other and then to the civil rights struggles in the 1960s, when the threat of violence hung heavy over Clarke County, Ward creates a narrative that links living memory and verifiable fact, illuminating one of the darkest places in American history and revealing the resiliency of the human spirit.