Saturday, July 10, 2010

Book Review: Rising Road

Title Rising Road: A True Tale of Love, Race, and Religion in America
Author Sharon Davies
Rating ****
Tags non-fiction, history, birmingham, alabama, anti-catholicism, ku klux klan, murder, trial 

Rising Road is one of those histories that illustrates a specific time and place and uses that to explain something about a culture. The time is 1021, and the place is Birmingham, Alabama. The country is going through one of its periodic bouts of anti-immigrant feeling, which is tied up with strong anti-Catholic feeling. Anti-Catholic publications have millions of readers. In Birmingham, one of the strongest defenders of Catholicism is Father James Coyle, pastor of St. Paul's.

Edwin Stephenson was a staunch anti-Catholic He had been a barber, but after an injury couldn't stand all day and used his ordination as a deacon to marry couples at the Jefferson County courthouse a few doors down from St. Paul's. His daughter Ruth, to the horror of Stephenson and his wife, showed an attraction to Catholicism from the time she was twelve. Some time after her eighteenth birthday, she joined the Catholic Church and Father Coyle married her to a Catholic man originally from Puerto Rico, Pedro Gussman. A few hours later, Edwin Stephenson went to Father Coyle's house and shot and killed him.

The trial, of course, was a sensation. The Catholic community was outraged. The Klan supported Stephenson - in fact the author discovered that the Klan paid fro Stephenson's defense, which was headed by Hugo Black, future Supreme court justice. There are also indications that there were Klansmen on the jury.

Sharon Davies tells the story well. She does a good job of giving a sense of the people involved. Her coverage of a story that provoked strong feelings is fair and balanced. She has the dogged persistence required to dig deep into surviving records to get the whole story, and she is excellent in tying this story to a sense of what was occurring in the country's culture at the time. Highly recommended.

Publication Oxford University Press, USA (2009), Hardcover, 352 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0195379799 / 9780195379792

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