By early 1966, the work of Vernon Dahmer was well known in south Mississippi. A light-skinned Black man, he was a farmer, grocery store owner, and two-time president of the Forrest County chapter of the NAACP. He and Medgar Evers founded a youth NAACP chapter in Hattiesburg, and for years after Evers's assassination Dahmer was the chief advocate for voting rights in a county where Black registration was shamelessly suppressed. This put Dahmer in the crosshairs of the White Knights, with headquarters in nearby Laurel. Already known as one of the most violent sects of the KKK in the South, the group carried out his murder in a raid that burned down his home and store. A year before, Tom Landrum, a young, unassuming member of a family with deep Mississippi roots, joined the Klan to become an FBI informant. He penetrated the White Knights' secret circles, recording almost daily journal entries. He risked his life, and the safety of his young family, to chronicle extensively the clandestine activities of the Klan. When Evil Lived in Laurel plumbs the nature and harrowing consequences of institutional racism, and brings fresh light to this chapter in the history of civil rights in the South--one with urgent implications for today.
... vivid ... In [...] When Evil Lived in Laurel, Wilkie follows along through the ludicrously conflicting stories the Knights concocted to cover themselves; the spiraling fear of informers they couldn’t manage to identify; the wild-eyed accusations they started to level at one another; the threats of trials and expulsions and retribution that ran through the ranks; the desertions, the confessions, the breakdowns, the collapsing membership and the deepening despair.
In acclaimed journalist Curtis Wilkie’s fascinating new book When Evil Lived in Laurel: The 'White Knights' and the Murder of Vernon Dahmer, the author takes the reader inside the White Knights sect to document their rise and fall during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, a fall that came too late for their victims ... Written with the gripping narrative of a thriller novel, When Evil Lived in Laurel makes readers feel as if they were actually there as the Klansmen plotted and carried out their reign of terror in Laurel and surrounding counties.
This thorough, well-researched book represents a landmark in the history of the Klan, how they operated in the Deep South, and the complex, often frustrating role of law enforcement. Most of all, When Evil Lived in LaurelM/em> demonstrates the continued impact of racial violence on the current political climate in America. Readers will find a wealth of historical detail in this engaging narrative, a natural follow-up for fans of the 2018 Spike Lee film BlacKkKlansman who want to learn more about this subject.