Lucy Pollard is dead. Four black people are arrested. Will they escape with their lives?
It's 1895 in Lunenburg County, Virginia, and a white woman lies in her farmyard, murdered with a meat-ax. Suspicion soon falls on a young black sawmill hand, who tries to flee the county. Captured, he implicates three women, accusing them of plotting the crime and wielding the ax.
Bancroft Prize-winning historian Susan Lebsock recounts their dramatic trials and brings us close to the sorts of everyday people we would never otherwise know: a devout (and pregnant) mother of nine; a farmhand and domestic (also mother of nine); and her plucky, quick-tempered daughter. All declare their innocence, a claim that gains urgency after a fifth person - a white man - becomes a suspect.
With the danger of lynching high, can the accused women get justice? Lebsock takes us deep into this contentious, often surprising world, where an improbable constellation of black and white supporters goes to work on the women's behalf. They face an uphill fight. All too soon, segregation, disenfranchisement, and the other elements of the Jim Crow system will be firmly in place. Black southerners, meanwhile, struggle to hold on to the vote and the precious freedoms gained during Reconstruction.
That historic struggle was writ small in the Lunenburg case. A sensation in its own time, this true story offers the modern reader a riveting encounter with three remarkable women, several stunning acts of courage and conscience, and a society on the brink of profound change.
"So much happens-and so much of it is unexpected-in Suzanne Lebsock's gripping study of the sensational ax murder of Lucy Jane Pollard...that we can only urge readers to read for themselves the acclaimed author's brilliant descriptions of racial politics (four African Americans were accused), the constant threat of lynching, the vicious court battles and how it all ended." -- Dallas Morning News
"How refreshing! Honest-to-goodness, 100 percent-genuine facts in an age of docudramas and fictional histories....Impressive job of historical re-creation....[Lebsock] has done a service in resuscitating this forgotten tale." -- New York Times