When Evil Lived in Laurel is set during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, but its concerns could not be more central to our current moment: voting rights, white supremacist terror, and the ground-level mechanisms of white radicalization. With meticulous research and all the tools of a novelist, Curtis Wilkie chronicles the Klan-ordered murder of activist Vernon Dahmer, and Tom Landrum’s infiltration of the White Knights. Read this book if you want to understand how racist words and ideas turn into violent, murderous action.
—Patrick Phillips, author of Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America
I’m a longtime admirer of Curtis Wilkie’s deep and insightful work, and his chilling journey through the KKK’s murder of Vernon Dahmer will stay with you long after you close this book. This kind of violence is where tacit encouragement of extremists leads, and Wilkie shows you how.—Greg Iles, New York Times bestselling author of Natchez Burning
Curtis Wilkie’s riveting account of the murder of Vernon Dahmer by the KKK is a window into the depths of racism and white supremacy. But it is also a beautifully written tale of courage and morality featuring a man with deep local roots that knew right from wrong. When Evil Lived in Laurel can help us understand the Civil Rights era in the South and also our country today.
—Walter Isaacson, Leonard Lauder Professor of American History and Values, Tulane University
When Evil Lived in Laurel is an extremely useful book, in addition to being impossible to put down. It’s about evil; terrible men doing terrible things to their fellow humans. But it’s also about convention and cowardice and hypocrisy and ignorance and public lies—and also about quiet heroism—all matters of vital concern to us in America at this very moment.
Though the frightful history of the struggle for civil rights in Mississippi is a familiar one, Curtis Wilkie’s account of the 1966 murder of Vernon Dahmer is astonishing. Drawing on voluminous, remarkable FBI documents, court records, congressional hearings, and interviews, Wilkie paints a compelling picture of the dogged pursuit of justice by law enforcement officials, heretofore untold acts of courage by ordinary citizens, and the involvement of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan—alternately pernicious and inept. When Evil Lived in Laurel may well be the finest book on the Civil Rights era.
—Richard Howorth, Square Books
Represents a landmark in the history of the Klan, how they operated in the Deep South, and the complex, often frustrating role of law enforcement. Most of all, When Evil Lived in Laurel demonstrates the continued impact of racial violence on the current political climate in America. Readers will find a wealth of historical detail in this engaging narrative.
—Booklist, starred review
account of an FBI informant’s efforts to bring a notoriously violent chapter of
the Ku Klux Klan to justice in the 1960s…. Wilkie vividly conveys the
turmoil of the era and the high stakes of the mission. This real-life thriller
is a worthy tribute to the courage of those who put everything on the line for
civil rights.—Publishers Weekly