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Ricardo Ainslie's Long Dark Road follows this formula. The murder of an unarmed black man by a group of white thugs, although tragic, is not surprising to historians of the American South or American race relations in general. But this murder captured the nation's attention not because of the crime itself, but because of the nature of the crime. After a chain was wrapped around his ankles and attached to the back of a pickup truck, James Byrd's body was dragged for over two miles. The man and boy who discovered Byrd near the front of an African American church at first thought the crumpled bundle along the road was the remains of a deer that had been hit by a driver the night before.

Within twenty-four hours of the discovery of the body, local police, with the assistance of the FBI, had arrested three men and charged them with murder and committing a hate crime. The Long Dark Road is not the story of these three men, nor is it a history of race relations in Jasper, or a case study of how the relationship between class, race, and poverty produce the societal ingredients that result in fear, racism, and violence. Rather, Ainslie, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, profiles the life and mind of only one of the three convicted killers, Bill King.

Based upon twenty hours of interviews and three years of correspondence the number and length of the letters is not revealed , Ainslie suggests a variety of reasons that might explain why King became a racist and murderer.

Ricardo Ainslie: The Mark of War

For example, at the age of thirteen King discovered that he was adopted, and this news, according to Ainslie, dramatically altered King's perception of himself and resulted in a personality in need of much emotional support. Or, there is the issue that King was bipolar although who diagnosed King and when this medical analysis was made is not clear , and he often did not take his medication.

Then there is the fact that King spent only fourteen months out of prison between the ages of seventeen and twenty-three. And, while in jail, he joined the Confederate Knights of America, tattooed his body with various racist and satanic images, and became friends with one of the two other men who murdered Byrd.

King also suggested that he had attempted suicide four times although whether this pronouncement is true or not is difficult to determine. Thus, Ainslie's profile suggests that an alienated, insecure, medically unstable young man released his anger at himself and the world through the act of murder. Although Ainslie argues that King's life was aresult more of nurture than nature "our collective failure" he writes on p. Most importantly, Ainslie failed to travel the long dark road of American racism to comprehend better why James Byrd's walk home in was as dangerous as a walk home taken by a black man in Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide.


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In its portrait of Bill King, Long Dark Road offers a glimpse into the mind of a killer that is unnervingly intimate. While never losing sight of the horror of the crime King was convicted of committing, Ainslie makes us understand, through dogged investigation and temperate empathy, the forces that helped warp an otherwise bright and promising individual into one of the most notorious criminals of our time.

The brutal modern-day lynching stunned people across America and left everyone at a loss to explain how such a heinous crime could possibly happen in our more racially enlightened times. Many eventually found an answer in the fact that two of the three men convicted of the murder had ties to the white supremacist Confederate Knights of America.

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In the ex-convict ringleader, Bill King, whose body was covered in racist and satanic tattoos, people saw the ultimate monster, someone so inhuman that his crime could be easily explained as the act of a racist psychopath. Few, if any, asked or cared what long dark road of life experiences had turned Bill King into someone capable of committing such a crime.

In this gripping account of the murder and its aftermath, Ricardo Ainslie builds an unprecedented psychological profile of Bill King that provides the fullest possible explanation of how a man who was not raised in a racist family, who had African American friends in childhood, could end up on death row for viciously killing a black man.


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  4. Ainslie draws on exclusive in-prison interviews with King, as well as with Shawn Berry another of the perpetrators , King's father, Jasper residents, and law enforcement and judicial officials, to lay bare the psychological and social forces—as well as mere chance—that converged in a murder on that June night. Ainslie delves into the whole of King's life to discover how his unstable family relationships and emotional vulnerability made him especially susceptible to the white supremacist ideology he adopted while in jail for lesser crimes.

    Long Dark Road Bill King and Murder in Jasper, Texas By Ricardo C. Ainslie

    With its depth of insight, Long Dark Road not only answers the question of why such a racially motivated murder happened in our time, but it also offers a frightening, cautionary tale of the urgent need to intervene in troubled young lives and to reform our violent, racist-breeding prisons.

    As Ainslie chillingly concludes, far from being an inhuman monster whom we can simply dismiss, "Bill King may be more like the rest of us than we care to believe.

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    Ricardo Ainslie is a psychologist-psychoanalyst who teaches at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is a Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and an affiliate faculty member in American Studies and at the Center for Mexican American Studies. Ricardo C. Huff Creek Road.