The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Town finds healing after dragging death

Author looks at effect of hate crime in Jasper

Correspondent and author Joyce King met with Daily Campusreporter De’Borah Bankston to discuss her book andpeoples’ reactions to it. King will be at the SMU Bookstorefor a book signing on Feb. 21 and will be on campus Feb. 25 as apart of the Women’s Symposium.


Joyce King says the message she shares when she speaks about herbook Hate Crime: The Story of a Dragging in Jasper, Texas,isn’t one of hate and gore. Rather it is one of healing— both for her and the community and a story of faith.

When King was first introduced to the James Byrd case, abroadcast station had recently fired her. Another station hiredKing and told her to cover the Jasper dragging, in which James ByrdJr., a black man, was dragged to death and decapitated by threewhite men. King pleaded with her editor to assign the story tosomeone else. She felt she had too many personal issues to dealwith the story in a just manner. Her editor refused and sent her toJasper, a small east Texas town with traditional southernvalues.

“I’m a Texan. I was educated here in the south. Iwent to college at LSU. I am as much a product of the Jim Crowsouth as anyone can be,” King said. “AnyAfrican-American over the age of 35 can tell you stories aboutgrowing up here. They can tell you about the segregation issues,the forced busing and the harassment. I had my share of those.Between that and my job situation, I did not want to getinvolved,” she said.

After attending the trials of the three accused murderers everyday for months, interviewing families, investigators and members ofthe community, she had been exposed to evidence of a murder sogruesome that people still cringe at the mention of the name of thetown.

King, a self-proclaimed devout Christian, turned to her Biblefor inspiration and found it in the book of Revelations. She stuckout the assignment.

“I’m glad now that I did, but it was hard,”King said. “I have been able to teach my children to havestrength and to complete jobs they may have, regardless of whetheryou wish them or not. I haven’t just grown spiritually frommy experiences, but I proved to myself that I was not some‘airhead’ radio anchor, as someone had accused me ofbeing.”

King was so touched by the Byrd case that she continued toresearch and follow it for years.

“I hoped to share a message of healing with people, amessage that I learned in Jasper,” King said. “My bookisn’t about the hate, although that is there in some detail.It’s not the same as living through it day after day. Jasperis a warm little town where I have made many friends. I saw thecommunity pull together in a way that I had never seenbefore.”

King said that after the murder, the town held a prayer rally. Alittle more than 2,000 people attended it to pray and share theirsupport with each other in that community of approximately7,500.

“People attended churches of other races and religions.They attempted to bond together in a way that they never hadbefore,” King said. “Some people think this issomething hideously outrageous that could never happen where theylive, an odd event. It wasn’t. It was the same as a modernday lynching. John William King [one of the accused ex-convicts],had often bragged about kidnapping a black man, throwing him in thetrunk of his car then torturing and killing him. This was like afulfillment of that fantasy of hate.”

King said that she did not feel that Byrd was simply in thewrong place at the wrong time.

“These men had an avowed hatred of all minorities,”King said. “It could have been a Hispanic or Asian man justas easily. I do not think they would have done the things they didto a white man, unless they learned he was Jewish. Byrd wasselected because he was a small, older black man, very inebriatedwalking down the highway alone at 2:30 a.m. The perpetrators weresmall of stature and slightly intoxicated themselves. They wouldnever have picked on someone able to defend himself. Byrd was theperfect victim.”

King said that one of the things she felt was significant wasthat all three men were convicted of capital crimes during thethree trials. Of the 36 jurors, only one was black. The decisionswere unanimous and did not require long deliberation periods.

“The community stood together to overcome this trauma.What happened was a historical fact, sad but true,” Kingsaid. “They are a stronger community and it is a beautifulplace to be. Just as I was healed and they were healed, I hoped toshare that message of faith, but it has been hard.”

King has had several speaking venues canceled because of thecontent of her book. She particularly wanted to reach out tochurches and their congregations. They are the ones who seem mostadamant that she not speak. One parishioner requested that she comespeak, but the minister asked that she not speak or attend.

“Any time that you interject race into a subject or title,it makes people uneasy,” King said. “They want toforget everything that has happened as a way to bring aboutclosure. They hurt and have bad feelings. Forgetting about itwon’t make it go away. People tell me that I should just letit go. I just want to invite people to stop and take the journey,as I did, walk for a little while in my shoes and see what Isaw.”

King said there is still racism today in both the North andSouth, it’s just more subtle.

“What happened, was not just about Texas, or just aboutthe South,” King said. “It could have happened anywhereat any time. People talk about Dr. King’s holiday. They askme if I will be doing something special. I tell them that Dr.King’s holiday is not just for blacks but for everyone. Ihope everyone goes out and does something to help someone out inthe community at that time. I hope it becomes a habit for us all.Maybe then we can all heal. Black history month is a good thing,but blacks are Americans too. Black history is a part of Americanhistory. I hope the day will come when we no longer need tosegregate it as well.”

King said it was the support of her family, the activism in thecommunity and the strong church family in her life that made herthe person that she is. She said she could not imagine what wouldhave happened without these influences in her life.

Although she has been a correspondent for more than 20 years,she still looks forward to getting back into broadcast radio,special projects and special features. She said that her earliestexperiences came from being an editor on her high school’snewspaper.

King said that she has been privileged to have many interestingexperiences and to have met interesting people along the way in hercareer. She said one of the more exciting experiences wasinterviewing Danny Glover. She asked for a 10-minute interviewabout the Gary Graham case that he was championing.

“Glover had been to Texas many times and met with thedeath roll inmate, but had not shared his feelings and thoughtswith any of the Texas press,” King said. “Glover agreedto meet me in my hotel room in L. A. (Los Angeles, Calif.). The10-minute interview became an hour. He was a warm, thoughtful, verynice man.

Even though Oprah has interviewed her, and she was the PhillipMorris Distinguished Lecturer for a year and has many otheraccreditations, King still considers herself to be an ordinaryperson.

“I’m just an ordinary person who found herselfcaught up in extraordinary times. I’m not a hero. I’mnot courageous. I just do the best I can and try to do what’sright. It’s not the extraordinary people who make adifference in history; it’s ordinary people. It’s whatyou do during those extraordinary times. Don’t loose theessence of who you are in college. Don’t let go of yourdreams and ideas. One person can and often does make adifference.”

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