“Highly Recommended” CHOICE Reviews The Thirteenth Turn

“Why did so many lynchers revert to the noose?” the author asks.  And, he continues, “how did they learn to tie the knot?”  More broadly, this book uses the “cultural technology” of the rope noose as a ready-made symbol to explore questions of public executions, vengeance, and folk justice in US history.  Shuler (literature and black studies, Denison Univ.) begins with a broader history of the noose in Western culture and in some fascinating early chapters looks at the public execution (by hanging) of slaves who were allegedly plotting against the colony of New York in 1741, a 12-year old girl in New England in 1786, John Brown in 1859, and an assortment of other stories.  Much of the book’s second half then takes up the harrowing subject of lynching, where the rope noose took on the powerful set of symbols and meanings now associated with it.  Those meanings are themselves complex, as evidenced by the fact that the song “Strange Fruit” actually comes from a midwestern, not a southern, lynching.  The last portion of the work takes up some more recent stories and documents the continued power of this simple cultural technology.  The result is a book that is as haunting as its subject.

–P. Harvey, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

South Carolina/North Carolina Book Tour: Oct. 12 – 17

October 12, 2014, Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Columbia, SC @ 11:00 a.m.

October 12, 2014, Orangeburg Fine Arts Center, Orangeburg, SC @ 4 p.m.

October 13, 2014, SC Progressive Network, ILA Hall (1142 Morrison Drive), Charleston, SC @ 7 p.m.

October 14, 2014, Speaker at the Center Series, South Carolina State Library, Columbia, SC @ Noon.

October 14, 2014, First Congregational UCC, Asheville, NC @ 7 p.m.

October 15, 2014, North Greenville University, Tigerville, SC @ 7 p.m.

October 16, 2014, Landrum Public Library, Landrum, SC @ Noon.

October 16, 2014, Hub City Bookshop, Spartanburg, SC @ 7 p.m.

October 17, 2014, Saluda Public Library, Saluda, NC @ 7 p.m.

THE THIRTEENTH TURN — starred review by KIRKUS

“The potency of the noose—as device, spectacle and ritual—laid raw and bare. Shuler (American Literature and Black Studies/Denison Univ.; Blood and Bone: Truth and Reconciliation in a Southern Town, 2012, etc.) makes the hangman’s knot and death by hanging transfixing but agonizing reading: the rope with its wicked cultural baggage and the act so barbaric yet so widespread and enduring. Much of the sting of this work comes from the extensive literature on the subject, which Shuler has distilled into an infusion as bitter as hemlock. In 1940, the Tuskegee Institute wrote that a lynching “occurs when three or more people kill someone illegally and when the killers claim they were serving justice, race, or tradition.” The knots alone have a magical, talismanic power, while the spectacle of a hanging, judicial or extrajudicial, is a cruel demonstration of power, ‘the ritual reenactment of community values and norms…a grand act of education and, possibly, indoctrination.’ In the United States, it was—and is, if less pronouncedly—an indiscriminate act, claiming men, women and children of all races, creeds and persuasions, though few will protest, certainly since the witch trials, that it has also been a piece of ” ‘folk pornography’…the ‘ideal’ white woman against the ‘villainous’ black man” or, to widen the scope, that ‘black people must be controlled, and lynching is one way to do it.’ This is trafficked ground, and Shuler does not claim it as his own, but he does cut his own path in taking readers to sites and eras in which hangings have had profound impacts—they all, ultimately, do—from the Iron Age Tollund Man to 12-year-old Hannah Ocuish during the Age of Enlightenment to small American towns and backcountry crossroads to John Brown to In Cold Blood. The author also ably explores how deeply etched the noose is to the Native American and African-American consciousnesses. A panoramic, unforgettable rendering of ‘the long fade of strangulation.'” – KIRKUS REVIEWS