RACE AGAINST TIME: a reminder of the importance of local investigative journalism to justice


From Simon & Schuster

Decorated investigative journalist Jerry Mitchell will be on book tour in Memphis on February 12th, speaking and signing copies at Novel Bookstore for his powerful book Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era. Mitchell has done an incredible service to our country with his journalism and Race Against Time has been hailed by the likes of John Grisham (“amazing”), Erik Larson (“chilling and gripping”), and those impacted by the cases he helped resolve.

Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens The Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era

By Jerry Mitchell

Simon & Schuster, February, 2020

432 Pages

Jerry Mitchell has been called “a loose cannon,” “a pain in the ass” and a “white traitor.” He’s also one of the most decorated investigative journalists in the nation, having won over thirty national awards—including a MacArthur “Genius Grant,” Columbia’s John Chancellor Award, the Sidney Hillman Prize, and the George Polk Award as well as a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Whatever he’s been called, he has never given up in his quest to bring unpunished killers to justice. Since 1989, the investigative journalist for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, has unearthed documents, cajoled suspects and witnesses, and quietly pursued evidence in some of the nation’s most notorious killings.

His new book, Race Against Time (it was released February 4th), documents the work that led to the re-openings and re-prosecutions of some of the nation’s most notorious murders, including the 1963 assassination of NAACP leader Medgar Evers, the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist church in Birmingham that killed four girls, the 1966 firebombing of Vernon Dahmer, and the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers (commonly known as the “Mississippi Burning” case). These four cases were landmarks in the civil rights movement, and since then, we’ve seen an all-time high of hate crimes in America. Mitchell writes, “We must remember, to point our compass toward justice. We must remember, and then act.”

With Race Against Time, readers get an unputdownable suspense story about a chapter in American history. It’s unbelievable that killers had been walking around in broad daylight, their crimes unpunished. Like reading a nonfiction version of a John Grisham novel, Race Against Time is filled with courtroom twists and heart-pounding one-on-one confrontations with killers.

Mitchell’s investigations of unpunished killings by the KKK have hardly been popular. Some readers of his stories complained bitterly in letters to the editor. Others cancelled their subscriptions. Klansmen have repeatedly threatened him. In addition to his reporting on these cases, he has exposed injustices, incompetence and corruption, helping lead to investigations, exonerations, firings and reforms of state agencies. The book also reveals the courage of those involved in the civil rights movement. And this book shows the power of the press in a nation that desperately needs accountability.

Mr. Mitchell will be at Novel Memphis Wednesday, February 12th at 6PM. Check out Novel’s event page here for more details.

Praise for Race Against Time

“His journalistic coups revealed an uncanny ability to wheedle incriminating remarks from defensive suspects and damning observations from unfriendly witnesses. A vivid, quick-paced, accessible account of horrific crimes, ‘Race Against Time’ focuses on four cases in which Mitchell’s reporting played a role….Mitchell portrays these killers’ racism unflinchingly….At the same time, Mitchell illuminates the racism in the broader culture that made egregious acts of Negrophobic violence imaginable and, in the minds of many onlookers, tolerable if not defensible….Brave, bracing and instructive….it warrants praise, gratitude and a wide audience.”
New York Times Book Review LINK

“Written like a crime thriller, ‘Race Against Time’ is Mitchell’s own account of uncovering some of the South’s deepest, darkest secrets.”
Atlanta Journal Constitution LINK

“Gripping…It is, on one level, the closest memoir can get to a John Grisham thriller. On another level, it’s a profound firsthand testament to how, per Faulkner, the past is never dead, but neither is the need for justice.”
Garden & Gun

“In his book, Mitchell never portrays himself as a hero. Readers, however, might correctly conclude that ‘hero’ is an appropriate word.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune LINK

“Movies have been made and songs sung about the most horrific hate crimes of the Civil Rights era…Less well known is the fact that one man, an investigative reporter at a Mississippi newspaper, helped bring perpetrators of all these crimes to justice.”
San Antonio Express-News  LINK

“The strength of Race Against Time is Mitchell’s ability to weave a compelling narrative, much like a police procedural….Luckily for all of us, brave journalists like Jerry Mitchell refuse to move on — or look away.”
Washington Review of Books  LINK

“Mitchell’s retelling of his experiences during the newsgathering process also provides a refreshing honesty about the emotional roller coaster and tension that reporters — who are, after all, only human — experience when tackling complex topics…The subtext of book is the reality that the generations long reign of domestic terror that many wanted to believe was in the past was still very much with them — especially in the form of those individuals who literally got away with murder and were still alive, many of them unrepentant and as volatile and violent as they were at the time the crimes were committed. Mitchell’s reporting helped bring justice for the families involved. Each turn and twist in the book keeps the reader engaged. The individual stories of each case presents in great detail the grievous errors of the past and the challenges of the present without being sanctimonious or overwrought. ‘Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era’ also effectively highlights the urgency surrounding each of the reopened Civil Rights Era cases Mitchell reported on, skillfully helping the reader grasp the fact that with each passing year, the chances of justice finally being served were growing slimmer. His tireless pursuit of each of these cases through his writing — even in the face of constant death threats — is a prime example of the invaluable role that investigative reporting plays in modern society.”
Philadelphia Sun LINK

“It took 41 years and the tireless work of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell to finally see the plotters of the Mississippi Burning case face justice, a story revealed one dramatic episode at a time, as Mitchell unearths documents and meets with the very men he’s trying to catch. I wouldn’t be surprised if this shows up on the big screen very soon.”
LitHub  LINK

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