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Murder in the Courthouse:: Reconstruction and Redemption in the North Carolina Piedmont

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No suspect was ever indicted or tried for the murder of scalawag politician John W. Chicken" Stephens in a North Carolina courthouse; and the Ku Klux Klan not only rid itself of a troublesome adversary, but also set up a showdown between the state's old guard and the radical regime of Governor William Woods Holden. Follow this little-known tale from the murder, through the No suspect was ever indicted or tried for the murder of scalawag politician John W. Chicken" Stephens in a North Carolina courthouse; and the Ku Klux Klan not only rid itself of a troublesome adversary, but also set up a showdown between the state's old guard and the radical regime of Governor William Woods Holden. Follow this little-known tale from the murder, through the "Kirk-Holden War," through the courts and to the finale, when Holden became the United States' first governor impeached and removed from office. Newspaper reporter and historical columnist Jim Wise takes us beyond the final days of the Civil War in North Carolina, amidst the destruction and poverty and debt, to chronicle the men whose clashing agendas and personalities shaped a violent era and laid foundations for the Jim Crow century to come."


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No suspect was ever indicted or tried for the murder of scalawag politician John W. Chicken" Stephens in a North Carolina courthouse; and the Ku Klux Klan not only rid itself of a troublesome adversary, but also set up a showdown between the state's old guard and the radical regime of Governor William Woods Holden. Follow this little-known tale from the murder, through the No suspect was ever indicted or tried for the murder of scalawag politician John W. Chicken" Stephens in a North Carolina courthouse; and the Ku Klux Klan not only rid itself of a troublesome adversary, but also set up a showdown between the state's old guard and the radical regime of Governor William Woods Holden. Follow this little-known tale from the murder, through the "Kirk-Holden War," through the courts and to the finale, when Holden became the United States' first governor impeached and removed from office. Newspaper reporter and historical columnist Jim Wise takes us beyond the final days of the Civil War in North Carolina, amidst the destruction and poverty and debt, to chronicle the men whose clashing agendas and personalities shaped a violent era and laid foundations for the Jim Crow century to come."

30 review for Murder in the Courthouse:: Reconstruction and Redemption in the North Carolina Piedmont

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bill Tyroler

    Remember Hitchcock's McGuffin? It's the linchpin of any good story, especially a thriller or mystery (https://www.writingclasses.com/toolbo... "The device, the gimmick, if you will, or the papers the spies are after... The only thing that really matters is that in the picture the plans, documents or secrets must seem to be of vital importance to the characters. To me, the narrator, they're of no importance whatsoever." John "Chicken" Stephens, Republican scalawag state senator, haplessly lured t Remember Hitchcock's McGuffin? It's the linchpin of any good story, especially a thriller or mystery (https://www.writingclasses.com/toolbo... "The device, the gimmick, if you will, or the papers the spies are after... The only thing that really matters is that in the picture the plans, documents or secrets must seem to be of vital importance to the characters. To me, the narrator, they're of no importance whatsoever." John "Chicken" Stephens, Republican scalawag state senator, haplessly lured to a brutal end in the Caswell County Courthouse basement at the hands of Democrat Klansmen, is the murder victim in the title of Jim Wise's short history of postbellum North Carolina -- and as it turns out, Stephens is also the McGuffin of the story. Or, as it turns out, the purported McGuffin. Stephens appears briefly in the first chapter, where we learn he was strangled and knifed to death; and briefly again half-way through the book, where we learn he was "barely literate" but became an attorney (yeah, yeah, facility with language isn't a requirement of the profession), also though accounts of his life "are sketchy" it's known that a dispute over chickens gave him his nickname. And not much else. So, we don't know much about Stephens, including why he willingly went into the lions' den (a Democratic Party meeting at the courthouse at a time insurrectionary reaction to Reconstruction was sweeping through the county); nor, for that matter, why his assailants murdered him or what they hoped to accomplish. Fine; maybe none of that is knowable. But why, then, give the appearance that Stephens' murder is central to a book, when there is so very little to be said about it or him? The book, really, is about William Holden, Republican governor at the time of the murder. Possessed of vaulting ambition (he belonged to four different parties, lurching from one to the other till he finally hit paydirt with the Republicans and won election to the statehouse), he proved remarkably inept at governance, even allowing for the fevered nature of the times. Among other fatal missteps, he sought, unsuccessfully, to suspend habeas corpus, when he had begun his political career by opposing Jefferson Davis's similar suspension. He acted as if his party had control when a resurgent, Klan-sympathizing Democratic (or "Conservative," as it was known) Party had regained the legislature. The result of Stephens' miscalculations: he became the first governor ever ousted from office via impeachment. As for the McGuffin, Stephens makes a cryptic appearance at the tail end, where Wise ascribes to his murder the very overthrow of the Reconstruction regime "and set the stage for a century of delay before Reconstruction's agenda for African Americans was accomplished." Wise is right, setting aside the overly optimistic "was accomplished," with regard to the century of delay. But as Mark Bradley shows, in his much more comprehensive "Bluecoats and Tar Heels,” Reconstruction efforts, including suppression of Klan terrorism, continued after Holden's demise. Reconstruction was a very fitful enterprise, before, during and after Holden. Ascription of the overthrow of Reconstruction to Stephens' murder is more than a stretch; a toss-away line really, and all the more jarring for its casual insertion. I hate to say it, but this exaggerated claim smacks of desperation -- the McGuffin was boldly introduced in Act I and now in Act III, the story having failed to explain why the murder in the courthouse was so all-fired important, an arbitrary and overstated connection to the real story will have to do. It's too bad, really. Wise is an engaging writer, and the book is worth reading. It's just that it doesn't quite tell the story suggested by the lurid title.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bernard Baker

    Not impressed. This book comes close to justifying the murder of John Stephens by terrorists. It's obvious that the author doesn't like Stephens. How you can rely on local accounts about the life of John Stephens is beyond understanding. The same standard does not apply to the Conservatives and the KKK. Klansman John Lea who arranged the murder comes off well in a manner befitting D.W. Griffith. Klan crime is brushed aside in an almost flippant manner. Find a better book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Stuart Jaffe

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nick Luciano

  5. 4 out of 5

    Chandler

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tisha

  7. 5 out of 5

    Julie

  8. 4 out of 5

    Janice

  9. 5 out of 5

    O. Poole

  10. 5 out of 5

    Chad Oakley

  11. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Baker

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

  13. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Foldi

  14. 4 out of 5

    rêveur d'art

  15. 4 out of 5

    Wesley Gant

  16. 4 out of 5

    ClassicPink

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

  18. 4 out of 5

    Omar I

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brandi Sickinger

  20. 4 out of 5

    Eva North

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sara Estrada

  22. 4 out of 5

    Succubi

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jane

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kim

  26. 5 out of 5

    Judy

  27. 4 out of 5

    James W. Anderson

  28. 4 out of 5

    Susan White

  29. 5 out of 5

    janice wilson

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Norton

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