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This harrowing portrait of the Jim Crow South “proves how much we do not yet know about our history” (New York Times Book Review). Caliph Washington didn’t pull the trigger but, as Officer James "Cowboy" Clark lay dying, he had no choice but to turn on his heel and run. The year was 1957; Cowboy Clark was white, Caliph Washington was black, and this was the Jim Crow South. Widely lauded for its searing “insight into a history of America that can no longer be left unknown” (Washington Post), He Calls Me by Lightning is an “absorbing chronicle” (Ira Katznelson) of the forgotten life of Caliph Washington that becomes an historic portrait of racial injustice in the civil rights era. Washington, a black teenager from the vice-ridden city of Bessemer, Alabama, was wrongfully convicted of killing a white Alabama policeman in 1957 and sentenced to death. Through “meticulous research and vivid prose” (Patrick Phillips), S. Jonathan Bass reveals Washington’s Kafkaesque legal odyssey: he came within minutes of the electric chair nearly a dozen times and had his conviction overturned three times before finally being released in 1972. Devastating and essential, He Calls Me by Lightning demands that we take into account the thousands of lives cast away by the systemic racism of a “social order apparently unchanged even today” (David Levering Lewis).
Caliph Washington didn't pull the trigger but, as Officer James "Cowboy" Clark lay dying, he had no choice but to turn on his heel and run. The year was 1957; Cowboy Clark was white, Caliph Washington was black, and this was the Jim Crow South. Widely lauded for its searing "insight into a history of America that can no longer be left unknown" Washington Post), He Calls Me by Lightning is an "absorbing chronicle" (Ira Katznelson) of the forgotten life of Caliph Washington that becomes an historic portrait of racial injustice in the civil rights era. Washington, a black teenager from the vice-ridden city of Bessemer, Alabama, was wrongfully convicted of killing a white Alabama policeman in 1957 and sentenced to death. Through "meticulous research and vivid prose" (Patrick Phillips), S. Jonathan Bass reveals Washington's Kafkaesque legal odyssey: he came within minutes of the electric chair nearly a dozen times and had his conviction overturned three times before finally being released in 1972. Devastating and essential, He Calls Me by Lightning demands that we take into account the thousands of lives cast away by the systemic racism of a "social order apparently unchanged even today" (David Levering Lewis).

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