I made these photographs in Jasper, Texas, in 2006, while looking at the landscape and landmarks related to the murder of James Byrd, Jr. on June 7th, 1998.
I’m posting them again, ten years later, after being reminded of the tragedy by the late Chantal Akerman’s brilliant documentary “Sud”, which was filmed in Jasper in the months following the murder.
Early on the morning of June 7th, 1998, Shawn Berry was driving around Jasper, Texas, with his two white supremacist friends, Bill King and Russell Brewer. James Byrd, Jr., an African-American who didn’t own a car, was walking home from a party when he passed this restaurant, Casa Ole, a short distance from his house. Shawn Berry offered Mr. Byrd a ride, which according to the police report, “upset Bill King”.
Mr. Byrd got in the flatbed of the truck, but Berry and his friends didn’t drive him home. They drove to a convenience store where Bill King took over the steering wheel. According to testimony, the four drove out of town, down a rural road to the east. King pulled over the truck and King and Brewer began violently assaulting Mr. Byrd, while Berry ran a short distance away.
(Country County Road 278 outside Jasper, Texas, not far from where James Byrd, Jr.’s body was found on June 7th, 1998, above)King and Brewer punched, kicked and spray-painted James Byrd, Jr. before tying him by his ankles to the bumper of the truck with a chain. After retrieving Shawn Berry, they proceeded to drag Mr. Byrd for three miles down a rural road.
At 9am that morning, the body of James Byrd, Jr. (minus his head and right arm) were found at the entrance of the town’s segregated cemetery. His head and arm were located later that morning, a mile from the cemetery.
The three men responsible for the crime were all convicted, in separate trials. Bill King and Russell Brewer were sentenced to death row, and Russell Brewer was executed in 2011. Shawn Berry is currently serving a sentence of life in prison.
After the murder, the town of Jasper debated renaming its community center after James Byrd, Jr.
When the debate was over, the name stayed the same.
- MDM 20161223