The Life of Caliph Washington and the Forgotten Saga of Jim Crow, Southern Justice, and the Death Penalty
There are many histories that focus on the grand sweep of the civil rights movement. Historian S. Jonathan Bass’s He Calls Me By Lightning offers an intimate scope, examining on one case that shows the brutality of the legal system in the Jim Crow south. Bass’s book focuses on Caliph Washington, a black man who was attacked by a white police officer in a small Alabama town. During the course of the altercation the officer was killed, likely by his own gun accidentally discharging. Washington fled, and was eventually convicted of murder. Washington was sentenced to death, and the book chronicles more than a decade of stays of executions and legal maneuvering before he was eventually released.
Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:
“He Calls Me by Lightning is riveting, heartbreaking, and vitally important. Through meticulous research and vivid prose, Bass brings the raucous world of Bessemer, Alabama, to life as it was in the Jim Crow era, and recovers the epic story of Caliph Washington’s struggle for freedom. This odyssey through a profoundly unjust legal system has a great deal to teach us all about the present.” — Patrick Phillips, author of Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America
“In sharper focus, thanks to Bass’s painstaking research, is a picture of how Jim Crow legal systems operated at the local and state levels. . . . There is much in He Calls Me By Lightning that we needed to know. There is much, almost too much, that is simply nice to know. But we are left, at the last page, with insight into a history of America that can no longer be left unknown.” — Colbert I. King, Washington Post
“He Calls Me By Lightning insists that we face the cost of lives that don’t matter to a persistent racial caste system. It reminds us that human endurance and irrepressible love outlast the glacial pace of change, and proves how much we do not yet know about our history.” — Timothy B. Tyson, New York Times Book Review
For more information on the publication, click here.
S. Jonathan Bass is a Professor and Chair of the History department at Samford University, along with being the University Historian. His areas of expertise include the civil rights movement, the American south, and legal history.