Above Photo: Historical photograph of Black civil rights leader Vernon Dahmer’s home and grocery store, which were destroyed by the KKK in a bombing attack on January 10, 1966. Getty Images.
In a new book about the Ku Klux Klan’s 1966 murder of Black civil rights activist Vernon Dahmer, author Curtis Wilkie offers insights into the psychology of white supremacists relevant to our current era.
On Jan. 9, 1966, the White Knights of the Mississippi Ku Klux Klan murdered the Black civil rights activist Vernon Dahmer in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, after firebombing and shooting into his house. It was one of thousands of hate crimes conducted in the South by whites who waged a reign of terror against Blacks to frighten them from abandoning calls for desegregation and voting rights. Terrorism by white vigilantes against religious and ethnic minorities is ingrained in the DNA of American society going back to the slave patrols—and has only escalated in recent years. The FBI recorded 8,263 reported hate crimes in 2020, a 13% jump over 2019.What motivates these people? How do they look at the world? How do they justify to themselves and others these acts of terror?
These questions are explored in the new book When Evil Lived in Laurel: The White Knights and the Murder of Vernon Dahmer by the former Boston Globe reporter Curtis Wilkie. Wilkie, relying on interviews with participants and meticulous records kept by Tom Landrum, who for four years worked as an FBI informant inside the Klan, provides a rare look into the inner workings of white hate, and how its extensive network of law enforcement officials, politicians, state and city officials, journalists, preachers, and business leaders colluded in what became a decade of unrelenting terrorism in the South.
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