Progress on my Whitehurst book

It’s funny how the “final stages” of a book take so long. Though I have been working on this book about the Whitehurst Case since the summer of 2013, the process of researching and writing it can be described in one word: waiting.

When the tasks involve digging up records and stories and facts from the past, nothing is simple. The now-historical events that are called the Whitehurst Case occurred from December 1975 until April 1977, in Montgomery, Alabama. The situation began with the shooting of Bernard Whitehurst, Jr., then went through a series of investigations and a federal civil case, and resulted in the resignation of Mayor Jim Robinson and subsequent election of Emory Folmar. That was forty years ago, during a time of paper record-keeping, of carbon paper and hand-cranked mimeograph machines, of notes scrawled on legal pads. Before modern computers and databases, paper records were bound, boxed, labeled, and stacked. As matter of course, just the way that time works, records get lost, thrown away, destroyed, or buried under mountains of other records, so when I have asked people to find those records for me . . . I could see it in their faces and hear it in their voices: This is going to take some digging.

In this age when “Google” is a verb, we like to type in a word or two and get what we want— but researching the Whitehurst Case couldn’t be done that way. Instead, there has been a lot of waiting. I’ve asked for records, then waited. I’ve requested interviews, then waited. Sometimes fruitlessly. But other times, the wait has paid off. The book is getting done, the story is coming together. With each positive response, with each unearthed document, with each unplanned epiphany, with each personal interview, a little more gets revealed, another puzzle piece is put into place.

In a wild twist of fate, just as I was about to give up struggling to obtain the federal case files for Whitehurst v. Wright, I got a break!  After nearly a year of requesting information, then waiting, then trying again, then waiting some more, I was describing my predicament recently to a lawyer friend, who was simply asking about this book I’ve been writing. Within two days, he had an order arranged, and I was down at the federal court clerks office, paying the fees to get the case files. Now I’m waiting again. Maybe that’ll yield something, maybe it won’t . . . I’m still a firm believer in something my mother used to say when I was growing up: I’ll believe it when I see it.

The raw manuscript is now over 70,000 words – well over 200 double-spaced pages – and I’m writing and editing every day. There are few more interviews to do, too. In probably two months, after some good revisions for clarity and style, I’ll be turning it in to NewSouth Books in the late summer. The plan is to have a book that reads really well, with everything you need to know and nothing you don’t. Of course, there will be a period of editorial work, followed by design and then production, so the book won’t be out for while. When there is a release date, I will shout it from the rafters!

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