James Byrd Jr. thought he’d put Jasper, Texas on the map because of his music. Instead, he put Jasper on the map because of his death.
Byrd’s murder, a horrific white-on-black death as three men tied him to the back of a pickup truck and dragged him down a road until he was dismembered, did indeed put Jasper on the map, creating an impression of the East Texas town that they haven’t been able to shake for over twenty years.
On Wednesday, the scheduled execution of John William King, the ring leader of the ordeal, is hopefully the final act in a story that has shaped the city and its inhabitants.
Byrd, 49 was chained by his ankles to a 1982 Ford pickup truck and dragged for three miles before his body was dumped on a nearby road. The quick arrests of King and his co-horts stunned the nation as it was discovered that King had white supremacist tattoos. During the trial, the Ku Klux Klan and New Black Panthers both marched through the town and the sentiment of Jasper being a racist town permeated.
“Nobody wanted to come here — to live, to work, to start a business, to relocate,” Liz McClurg told The Beaumont Enterprise. “I would just tell them: Come meet our people, come visit our shops, come see our schools. I stressed to my clients that the perception that they may have is not a pattern, it’s not a mentality.”
King, Shawn Allen Berry and Lawrence Russell Brewer were all convicted of capital murder. Berry was sentenced to life in prison. Brewer was executed in 2011. King is scheduled to die on Wednesday.
In 2001, then-Gov. Rick Perry signed the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, creating harsher penalties for crimes committed on the basis of race, religion, age, gender, disability, national origin or sexual orientation.