Monday, July 29, 2013

"Snow Storm in August" is Nominated for 2013 Lillian Smith Book Award

Snow Storm in August: 
The Struggle for Freedom and
Washington's Race Riot of 1835

By Jefferson Morley

A gripping narrative history of the explosive events that drew together Francis Scott Key, Andrew Jackson, and an 18-year-old slave on trial for attempted murder.

In 1835, the city of Washington pulsed with change. As newly freed African Americans from the South poured in, free blacks outnumbered slaves for the first time. Radical notions of abolishing slavery circulated on the city's streets, and white residents were forced to confront new ideas of what the nation's future might look like.

On the night of August 4th, Arthur Bowen, an eighteen-year-old slave, stumbled into the bedroom where his owner, Anna Thornton, slept. He had an ax in the crook of his arm. An alarm was raised, and he ran away. Word of the incident spread rapidly, and within days, Washington's first race riot exploded, as whites fearing a slave rebellion attacked the property of the free blacks. Residents dubbed the event the “Snow-Storm," in reference to the central role of Beverly Snow, a flamboyant former slave turned successful restaurateur, who became the target of the mob's rage.

In the wake of the riot came two sensational criminal trials that gripped the city. Prosecuting both cases was none other than Francis Scott Key, a politically ambitious attorney famous for writing the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” who few now remember served as the city's district attorney for eight years. Key defended slavery until the twilight's last gleaming, and pandered to racial fears by seeking capital punishment for Arthur Bowen. But in a surprise twist his prosecution was thwarted by Arthur's ostensible victim, Anna Thornton, a respected socialite who sought the help of President Andrew Jackson.

Ranging beyond the familiar confines of the White House and the Capitol, Snow-Storm in August delivers readers into an unknown chapter of American history with a textured and absorbing account of the racial secrets and contradictions that coursed beneath the freewheeling capital of a rising world power.


"A vibrant and illuminating picture of the antebellum capital at a time when national stability depended on placating the owners of slaves … Morley reveals a tangle of back stories that eventually lead deep into a tension-filled landscape of class resentments, provocative abolitionism and proslavery passions. It is a world peopled with vivid characters both black and white, among them, most intriguingly, the city's district attorney, Francis Scott Key." —The Wall Street Journal

"[Morley’s] plunge beneath the surface of history exposes realities more true to daily experience than executive proclamations or speeches in Congress ... Snow-Storm in August deepens our appreciation of how slavery made a mockery of the founding and made the Civil War as close to inevitable as any event in our history." —The Washington Post

"In a crackling good tale of the deep impact of race and politics on a young nation struggling to create its identity, Salon Washington correspondent Jefferson Morley boldly and elegantly recreates a moment in time when free black businessmen mingled with their white counterparts while proponents of slavery and abolitionists struggled to co-exist in the nation’s bustling capital." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Jefferson Morley has vividly and factually recreated a largely lost but pivotal time in Jacksonian Washington, an emerging, still somewhat primitive capital city where racial tensions among its complex mix of white, free black, and enslaved residents inevitably lead to violence and push the debate over abolition into the houses of Congress and the President. The historical characters, famous and forgotten, come to life in affecting and surprising ways without fictional artifice, a tribute to Morley's meticulous research and empathetic narrative style." —Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post

"Morley vividly recreates the episodes connected to the riot, and dramatically depicts the personalities involved, giving important insight into race relations before the Civil War." —The Columbus Dispatch
Join us for the 2013 Lillian Smith Book Awards Ceremony

During the Decatur Book Festival
September 1, 2013

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