Briefly Noted: ‘Race Against Time’ by Jerry Mitchell

He’s been called “a loose cannon,” a “pain in the ass” and a “white traitor.” For more than 15 years, Jerry Mitchell has unearthed documents, cajoled suspects and witnesses, and quietly pursued the evidence in unsolved murders of civil rights activists. Mitchell’s investigative reporting and sustained coverage for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, has brought to justice four Ku Klux Klan members, beginning with the conviction of Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 assassination of Medgar Evers and, most recently, Edgar Ray Killen who was found guilty in June for orchestrating the murders of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner in 1964. – Columbia School of Journalism, Chancellor Award Winner Bio of Jerry Mitchell

If you’re old enough to have been around during the 1960s violence led by the KKK (I am), then you know that fires, bombs,  clubs, knives, and bullets wielded by the KKK took a lot of lives but these events seldom led to arrests and convictions. I grew up in that world and I knew the reason why. Nobody saw nothin’.

However a reporter named Jerry Mitchell thought there had probably been much to see and that since there’s no statute of limitations on murder, those unsolved KKK murders needed another look. As John Grisham said, “For almost two decades, investigative journalist Jerry Mitchell doggedly pursued the Klansmen responsible for some of the most notorious murders of the civil rights movement. This book is his amazing story. Thanks to him, and to courageous prosecutors, witnesses, and FBI agents, justice finally prevailed.”

From the Publisher

On June 21, 1964, more than twenty Klansmen murdered three civil rights workers. The killings, in what would become known as the “Mississippi Burning” case, were among the most brazen acts of violence during the Civil Rights Movement. And even though the killers’ identities, including the sheriff’s deputy, were an open secret, no one was charged with murder in the months and years that followed.

It took forty-one years before the mastermind was brought to trial and finally convicted for the three innocent lives he took. If there is one man who helped pave the way for justice, it is investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell.

In Race Against Time, Mitchell takes readers on the twisting, pulse-racing road that led to the reopening of four of the most infamous killings from the days of the Civil Rights Movement, decades after the fact. His work played a central role in bringing killers to justice for the assassination of Medgar Evers, the firebombing of Vernon Dahmer, the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham and the Mississippi Burning case. Mitchell reveals how he unearthed secret documents, found long-lost suspects and witnesses, building up evidence strong enough to take on the Klan. He takes us into every harrowing scene along the way, as when Mitchell goes into the lion’s den, meeting one-on-one with the very murderers he is seeking to catch. His efforts have put four leading Klansmen behind bars, years after they thought they had gotten away with murder.

Race Against Time is an astonishing, courageous story capturing a historic race for justice, as the past is uncovered, clue by clue, and long-ignored evils are brought into the light. This is a landmark book and essential reading for all Americans.

In 1964, I didn’t think anyone would have the guts to find and publish the truth, the in-depth truth that names names and brings people to court. Jerry Mitchell did what all reporters should have been doing. This book came out a year ago: since then, I hope it has inspired other reporters to look deeper into their stories about racial violence stemming from hate groups.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of four anti-racism novels: “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” “Lena,” and “Fate’s Arrows.” They are available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover through major online booksellers and via your local bookstore’s orders from its Ingram Catalog.,