John William King, the racist behind the viciously, deadly attack against James Byrd Jr. back in 1998, is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday.
King is the mastermind who concocted the attack against Byrd in the early morning hours of June 7, 1998. On that day, he and his two accomplices, all white, offered Byrd, who was Black a ride, only to brutally beat him before chaining him to the back of a pickup truck. The men then dragged Byrd’s body for nearly 3 miles along a secluded road in Jasper, Texas, the Associated Press reports.
Byrd was alive for at least two miles before his body was ripped apart. Prosecutors have insisted that he was attacked just because of his race.
As King’s execution draws closer, the town, which has about 7,600 residents have been reflecting on Byrd’s death.
Some, including local leaders, say that Jasper will never forget about Byrd’s brutal murder, but has also grown into a welcoming place that handed down punishment to Byrd’s killers.
Lawrence Russell Brewer, one of King’s accomplices was executed back in 2011. Shawn Allen Berry, the final participant, was sentenced to life in prison.
However, others, including Byrd’s family, believe that Jasper has never fully acknowledged the murder’s place in its history, with racial tension remaining unresolved in the community.
“I think, quite frankly, people in Jasper are tired of talking about it. They want to forget it,” Mylinda Washington, one of Byrd’s sisters, told the AP. “It happened here, and we need to always have that in front of us.”
The focus on the death also comes at a time when a technology company was prepared to bring some 300 new jobs to the small town. However, during negotiations, the town’s sordid history came up as a potential dealbreaker, giving the company’s president pause as to whether to bring a new facility to Jasper.
Local clergy and leaders argued that the town is not defined by the murder, noting that they were able to convince the president “that we are a lot different than what the world sees us as,” according to Eddie Hopkins, head of the Jasper Economic Development Corporation.
Jasper’s interim mayor, Gary Gatlin, pointed out that leaders of all races in the community came together at the time to help the town heal.
“It certainly doesn’t go away, and we certainly remember what happened,” Gatlin said.
However, there were other incidents that brewed tensions in recent history. Back in 2012, Jasper’s first Black police chief was fired. Two of only three Black city council members who were hired by the chief were then ousted in a recall election that was tainted by racial slurs.
City council member Rashad Lewis, who is Black, was only 12 when Byrd was murdered, however, he remembers classmates wearing Confederate symbols, including belt buckles and shirts, right after the death.
When he returned to Jasper to run for office, he did so due to the lack of representation, eventually becoming the only Black person on the five-member council which oversees the community that has a Black majority.
Lewis is currently preparing to run against Gatlin. If he wins he will be only the second Black mayor in Jasper’s history.
“As long as we keep a blindfold to the incident, we will never be able to move forward,” he said.