This is such a sad and convoluted story. But it goes to show just how deep the scars of racism can be. Another irony of this story for me is that I grew up only miles from this town where this all happened and remember well that it was a hotbed for the KKK. Oh memories.
But a battle was already underway, especially between two men: the police chief standing in the back and the white mayor sitting up front, preparing to oust him.
Both felt they were acting against racism. Both took the struggle personally. Fourteen years earlier, both had witnessed the aftermath of a hate crime that would long define their town. And both had hoped Jasper had moved beyond that awful time.
In the wee hours of June 7, 1998, three white men in a pickup traveling a road at the edge of town offered a ride to a black man headed home on foot.
Later that morning, the mangled remains of James Byrd Jr., 49, were found strewn along a 1 1/2-mile stretch of blacktop.
When Rodney Pearson, then a 32-year-old state trooper, first heard a report of body parts on Huff Creek Road, he figured somebody must have dug up a grave. Pearson recalls walking the road with Jasper County’s sheriff, following a trail of blood to a discarded tool etched with the name of a local man, Shawn Berry.
Pearson, the first black highway patrolman in Jasper, got a cold, cold feeling.
A local reporter was also on the scene that day. Mike Lout, then 42, covered the story for KJAS, the radio station he ran out of his house. He was the first to report that Byrd had been alive when he was chained to the truck and dragged, and that the killing was racially motivated.
“That set the world on fire,” Lout said.
You can read the full story here.