When Evil Lived in Laurel: The “White Knights” and the Murder of Vernon Dahmer

Norton. Jun. 2021. 400p. ISBN 9781324005759. Tr. HIST
Wilkie (The Fall of the House of Zeus) narrates the downfall of the White Knights of the Mississippi Klu Klux Klan, a chapter that was active during the civil rights era in Laurel, Mississippi. In this book, the White Knights are seen primarily through the eyes of Tom Landrum, an FBI informant who infiltrated and reported on them for four years. Repelled by the White Knights’ activities and worried about the potential repercussions of his membership, Landrum informed on their terrorist acts throughout southern Mississippi, which culminated in the firebombing and murder of the Black civil rights activist Vernon Dahmer. Following Dahmer’s murder, the White Knights fractured, and Landrum continued to dutifully report on their infighting and power struggles. Wilkie relates all this, as well as the FBI’s investigation of Dahmer’s murder and use of extralegal methods to obtain confessions and cooperation. Wilkie also reports on the arrests and trials of the White Knights and briefly connects their white supremacist activities to the present day. The book relies on extensive primary sources and includes several photographs, in order to provide a complete picture of the period.
VERDICT An interesting account of civil rights–era Mississippi, although it’s largely focused on the perspective of white men. Recommended for readers interested in civil rights history.
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