The Killing of Bernard Whitehurst

By on 25 October, 2018 in Book reviews, Fun, Karren Pell, Municipal business with 0 Comments

One of my favorite people has a new book, and therefore a signing, at one of my favorite places.

On November 1, at 5:30 p.m., Foster Dickson will sign and talk about his new book, Closed Ranks: The Whitehurst Case in Post-Civil Rights Montgomery, at the Read Herring Bookstore on 105 South Court Street.

If you have somehow missed the transition, “Read Herring” is the new name of the bookstore in the building with New South Books. Lots of regular events are happening there now. Recently, a new annotated edition of the classic Pickett’s History of Alabama was released, and its editor held a discussion. Get on the email list for this very happening place in our very happening downtown.

Foster and I, and indeed his family (wonderful wife and children, her sister, her sister’s husband and their children — it’s a southern thing — you understand), have been friends for, let’s just say, many years — many wonderful years. If memory serves me well (it doesn’t always), I believe that I had the good fortune of having Foster as a student lo many years ago. Foster is now a teacher himself — an award winning teacher! He teaches creative writing and English at Booker T. Washington Magnet High School. Needless to say this has been a busy and difficult year for Foster and his students. At the Alabama Book Festival, I always look for his student’s book of original work, and it is always delightful. This is Foster’s third book; he is also the author of I Just Make People Up: Rambling with Clark Walker (2009) and Children of the Changing South (2011).

I also think I recall Foster talking to me about this book as he was beginning his research. Some people might not realize that writing takes time and energy, and if the book requires research, the timeline and energy investment increases. Foster does not live in a writer’s ivory tower where he can write in peace and quiet whenever he pleases. So a book like Closed Ranks is an impressive achievement. In fact, it was five years in the making. Our mutual friend (lots of friends in the Montgomery writing community), author and historian Richard Bailey, writes about the book: “Foster Dickson has pulled together every possible resource to afford Bernard Whitehurst, Jr. the sense of justice surrounding his death that he never received in life.”

The book combs back through a story that began over 40 years ago. In December 1975, Bernard Whitehurst, Jr., an unarmed black man, was shot and killed by a Montgomery police officer; he was mistaken for a robbery suspect. On the day of the shooting, the police claimed Whitehurst had fired on the pursuing officer. Police produced a weapon they claimed was found near his body. However, different versions of the event came out during the year-long investigation, creating a controversy that drew national attention. In addition, the consequences of the shooting and the investigation lead to the resignation of the mayor and the public safety director; in addition, more than a dozen police offices resigned or were fired. Regardless of these obvious symptoms of a city government problem, the family’s lawsuit was defeated in federal court, and no one involved was convicted of criminal wrong doing.

Now, more than four decades later, Dickson’s book explores the events of Whitehurst’s story. As one review explains, “Closed Ranks brings together interviews, police reports, news stories, and other records to carry the reader through the fraught post-civil rights movement period when the shooting of Bernard Whitehurst, Jr. occurred.” In connecting the event to events in the present, another review muses, “…this book shows how essential it is to find and face the truth in such tragic situations. Closed Ranks forces us to consider the question of what justice looks like can be difficult to answer.”

Foster tells me that he will not be reading from the book, but will be answering questions and discussing the book. He also tells me that the event will be attended by Bernard Whitehurst’s family. I’m sure this will be an important and enjoyable event. Join me at the release of Closed Ranks: The Whitehurst Case in Pose-Civil Rights Montgomery at 5:30 on November 1, at the Read Herring Bookstore, at the location of New South Books on 105 South Court Street in downtown Montgomery, Alabama. It will be an evening of old friends and new friends celebrating a new book at a popular place. See ya there.

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