It was one year ago today that an overflow crowd came to the Read Herring bookstore in downtown Montgomery for the official release of Closed Ranks: The Whitehurst Case in Post-Civil Rights Montgomery. In the months after the release, we had a hectic schedule of book talks at venues ranging from Alabama Department of Archives & History in Montgomery and the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts & Humanities in Auburn to libraries and churches around Alabama. The most recent event was at the History Museum of Mobile for their Learning Lunch series.
Closed Ranks tells the latter-day story of the Whitehurst Case, a police-shooting controversy in Montgomery, Alabama in the mid-1970s. The victim, Bernard Whitehurst, Jr. was a 33-year-old African-American man, married and a father of four, who worked as a janitor at a McDonald’s restaurant and part-time at a church near his home. Although initial reports claimed that Whitehurst had shot first at the officer who killed him, it was later charged that he did not have a gun that day and that the gun lying next to his body had been placed there by police. Inquiries led by the Montgomery district attorney and the Whitehurst family’s attorney uncovered a range of inconsistencies and irregularities, yet in the end, no officers faced criminal penalties related to his death, and a federal civil lawsuit failed in its cause. By the time the Whitehurst Case was over in the late 1970s, the victim’s family had been denied justice for his wrongful death.
Closed Ranks, which was written as a first-person narrative of my search for the truth, asks long-range questions about race, policing, governance, and justice in the post-Civil Rights era, questions which are still pertinent today. I spent the years 2013 through 2017 working with some members of the Whitehurst family to tell the story of Whitehurst Case and of the family’s pursuit of justice in the decades since, and the book was published by NewSouth Books in 2018. The Crime Report‘s David Krajicek wrote that Closed Ranks takes “the first long retrospective look at the case, whose racial overtones resonate today in the #BlackLivesMatter movement,” and the Alabama Writers Forum’s review called the book “a powerful and methodical memoir.” It was an honor to write about this crucial albeit neglected aspect of Montgomery’s history, and it has been a continued honor to share this story with audiences over the last year.
To learn more about Closed Ranks, visit the publisher’s page on the book, or to schedule an author event or book talk, use the contact form on the About page of this website.