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Synopsis

July 8, 1932; 11 PM. East Austin. Sixty-year-old African-American Charles Johnson is driving home from Bible study when a car full of white youths swerves in front of him. A brief altercation ensues. Convinced that his life is threatened, Johnson fires his pistol at the car and drives away. Johnson’s shot kills the unarmed eighteen-year-old son of Albert Allison, a prominent Corsicana cotton landlord, influential in politics, and an advocate for racial justice. Although devastated, Allison intervenes to thwart a lynch mob and then insists that Austin’s courts treat Johnson fairly. Nonetheless, Allison expects the system to execute his son’s killer. Johnson himself fully expects to be lynched, either by the mob or by the court. To Defy the Monster shows how Allison’s conscience, the Depression, Allison’s political enemies, East Austin’s social dynamics, and the impact of Roosevelt’s election converge to influence Austin’s legal establishment. It explains the surprising verdict and why Allison orders his family never to speak of the incident, leaving future generations to ascertain what happened and what it meant.

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