Beacon Press: Summoned at Midnight
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Summoned at Midnight

A Story of Race and the Last Military Executions at Fort Leavenworth

Author: Richard A. Serrano

A lost history of racial discrimination in America’s capital punishment system revealed by 17 lives lived in the Fort Leavenworth military prison

Between 1955 and 1961, 17 condemned soldiers—8 white, 9 black—lived together on death row at Fort Leavenworth military prison. All 8 of the white soldiers were eventually paroled and returned to their families, spared by high-ranking army officers, the military courts, the White House staff or President Eisenhower himself, sympathetic doctors, and attorneys highly trained in capital litigation. One white master sergeant was serving time for drowning the 8-year-old daughter of an army colonel in Japan. But when the girl’s parents forgave him, it sparked a national effort that opened the prison doors and set him free.

During the same 6-year period, almost every black soldier was hanged, lacking the benefits of political connections, expert lawyers, and public support of their white counterparts. By 1960, only the youngest black inmate, John Bennett, remained on death row. His battle for clemency was fought over the backdrop of a strengthening civil rights movement, and between two vastly different presidential administrations. With each year came a new legal twist, his freedom and his life hanging in the balance between evolving ideas and realities of race in America.

Now, drawing on interviews, transcripts, and rarely-published archival material, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Richard Serrano uncovers the lost history of these unforgettable characters, the scandalous legal maneuvering that reached the doors of the White House, and the intimate history of the racism that pervaded the armed forces long after its integration.
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“Serrano paces his slim account for maximum suspense, but Bennett’s execution feels increasingly foreordained, particularly when the putatively liberal John F. Kennedy declines to second-guess his predecessor. The author’s scrupulous research ably captures a shameful time during the military’s halting journey toward integration. A compact, engrossing historical meditation with clear relevance to current controversies over race and punishment.”
Kirkus Reviews

“An important contribution to the historiography of race and justice.”
Publishers Weekly

“Serrano presents a harrowing and necessary corrective chronicle.”

Summoned at Midnight, tells the important but overlooked story of the role of race in the fates of former soldiers sentenced to death by the military. It’s a book that manages to be both dark and enlightening.”
The Progressive

“Richard A. Serrano brings to life a shamefully overlooked episode in American history. In the shadow of upheavals in Montgomery, Scottsboro, and Little Rock, the US Army quietly maintained its own lethal regime of white supremacy. It is a chilling portrait of the federal government in the early years of the civil rights movement. Meticulously researched and humanely written, Summoned at Midnight masterfully unravels a forgotten history of racial injustice during the twilight of Jim Crow.”
—Daniel LaChance, author of Executing Freedom: The Cultural Life of Capital Punishment in the United States

Summoned at Midnight brilliantly brings to life a tragic and forgotten chapter of American history, when the US Army was still plagued by Jim Crow even on the cusp of the civil rights movement. It is a heartbreaking reminder that progress is often halting and that iconic historic figures were sometimes guilty of moral cowardice.”
—James Risen, author of Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War

Summoned at Midnight uncovers one of the darkest chapters in American history. It is a must-read for those seeking to understand the historical failures of the criminal justice system and how black soldiers fared within it. This gripping and devastating story about racism, inequality, and capital punishment by the US military is one I never knew and will never forget.”
—Talitha LeFlouria, author of Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South


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Note on Sources

Summoned at Midnight

ISBN: 978-080706096-4
Publication Date: 2/5/2019
Size:6 x 9 Inches (US)
Price:  $26.95
Format: Cloth
Availability: In stock.
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