On the Lived Theology Reading List: In the Pines: A Lynching, a Lie, a Reckoning

Untangling a Lie

Grace Elizabeth Hale learned in her early adult life about the heroism of her grandfather: a 1947 sheriff in Prentiss, Mississippi, who courageously protected a black man, wrongly accused of raping a white woman, from a ferocious mob. With the help of a Carnegie Fellowship, Hale endeavors in In the Pines: A Lynching, a Lie, a Reckoning to investigate the decades-old tale that held deep significance and emotional gravity in her family. The truth she uncovers unravels her own family history as she knows it.

Hale’s mission to uncover the story leads her to a new version of events that occurred on the day that Versie Johnson, the accused, died under the watch of Oury Berry, Hale’s grandfather. Johnson died by lynching, and Berry, as it turns out, sanctioned the attack. Through Hale’s deeply immersive research, In the Pines tells the buried, tortured story of Versie Johnson and examines the institutional and social structures of racism that conceal stories just like it. While grappling with her own family history, Hale seeks to uplift justice and set the record straight.

Grace Elizabeth Hale is a Commonwealth Professor of American Studies and History at the University of Virginia. She has received a variety of fellowships including the American Association of University Women, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and the American Historical Association. Interested in the topics of white supremacy and the culture of the American South, Hale is also the author of Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890-1940.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“Hale is a phenomenal historian, a dogged researcher, and a gifted writer.” 

-Kevin M. Kruse, author of One Nation Under God

“Intimate, devastating, and historically meticulous.”

– Gilbert King, Pulitzer Prizer winner and author of Devil in the Grove

“Courageous and compelling… essential and critically important.”

-Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy

“Remarkable… Hale deftly captures the racial terror of the Jim Crow South.”

– John Grisham, award-winning novelist

For more information on the publication, click here.

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