Monday, April 16, 2018

Birmingham Bound: Author Talk and Book Signing with Melanie S. Morrison on April 24 at Avondale Library

What: Author talk and book signing for Murder on Shades Mountain: The Legal Lynching of Willie Peterson and the Struggle for Justice in Jim Crow Birmingham by Melanie S. Morrison
When: Tuesday, April 24, 6:00 p.m.
Where: Avondale Regional Branch Library
Cost: Free and open to the public. Copies of the book will available for purchase at the event for $26.95.
Contact: Jim Baggett at or 205-226-3631

On Tuesday, April 24, Birmingham's Melanie S. Morrison will hold a lecture about her book, Murder on Shades Mountain: The Legal Lynching of Willie Peterson and the Struggle for Justice in Jim Crow Birminghamat the Avondale Regional Branch Library. Her talk is a part of Birmingham Bound, a series of author talks and book signings by writers who researched their books using the Birmingham Public Library Archives and Manuscripts Department.

In Murder on Shades Mountain, Morrison tells the gripping and tragic true story of an alleged interracial attack and its aftermath—events that shook 1930s Birmingham to its core. A black man, Willie Peterson, was falsely accused of a crime and sentenced to death by an all-white jury.

One August night in 1931, on a secluded mountain ridge overlooking Birmingham, Alabama, three young white women were brutally attacked. The sole survivor, Nell Williams, age 18, claimed a black man had held the women captive for four hours before shooting them and disappearing into the woods. That same night a reign of terror was unleashed on Birmingham's black community—black businesses were set ablaze, posses of armed white men roamed the streets, and dozens of black men were arrested in the largest manhunt in Jefferson County history.

Weeks later, Nell identified Willie Peterson as the attacker who killed her sister Augusta and their friend Jennie Wood. With the exception of being black, Peterson bore little resemblance to the description Nell gave the police. An all-white jury convicted Peterson of murder and sentenced him to death.

Morrison’s book tells the tragic story of the attack and its aftermath. She first heard of the story from her father, who dated Nell's youngest sister when he was a teenager. Morrison scoured the historical archives of the Birmingham Public Library and documented the black-led campaigns that sought to overturn Peterson's unjust conviction, spearheaded by the NAACP and the Communist Party. The travesty of justice suffered by Peterson reveals how the judicial system could function as a lynch mob in the Jim Crow South.

Murder on Shades Mountain also sheds new light on the struggle for justice in Depression-era Birmingham. This riveting narrative is a testament to the courageous predecessors of present-day movements that demand an end to racial profiling, police brutality, and the criminalization of black men.

Melanie S. Morrison
Melanie S. Morrison is founder and executive director of Allies for Change, a social justice educator, author, and activist for three decades. In 1994 Morrison founded Doing Our Own Work, an anti-racism intensive for white people that has attracted hundreds of participants across the country. She has a master of divinity from Yale Divinity School and a PhD from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. Ordained in the United Church of Christ, Morrison pastored congregations in Michigan and the Netherlands. As adjunct faculty, she has taught anti-racism seminars at Chicago Theological Seminary and the Methodist Theological School in Ohio. She lives in Okemos, Michigan.

Related link:
Duke Press webpage for Murder on Shades Mountain

The Birmingham Bound author series recognizes authors who researched their books utilizing the resources available at the Birmingham Public Library. Historians, journalists, and other writers from around the world have produced hundreds of books using the library’s collections, and these books include five recipients of the Pulitzer Prize.

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