True crime in 1950 Mississippi
April 26, 2011
The common thought about self-published books is traditional publishing isn’t interested in them. And here I’ll confess my own quick judgment about this area of publishing: When I hear a book’s been self-published, I immediately think someone’s brought forth their unvetted literary pet project, and I doubt its quality. One Night of Madness, self-published by author Stokes McMillan, makes me realize this isn’t always the case.
According to Publishers Weekly, McMillan had an agent for his book, but it took longer than anticipated to write it. By the time it was completed, the agent and author had amicably parted ways. McMillan figured it would take the typical one to two years to go through traditional publishing, let alone the time it would take to find another agent. He had interviewed many eyewitnesses for the book, and, if he waited much longer, some who were dying wouldn’t be around to see it.
One Night of Madness tells the story of a vengeful, drunk white man who murdered the three children of a black woman he tried unsuccessfully to rape. McMillan’s father, a journalist and photographer, reported the story for the family newspaper, writing about the crime, three-day manhunt for the accused and the trial. His photographs and other material regarding the crime were kept in a scrapbook that McMillan-the-son used to write his book. This Deep South crime stands apart from others during that pre-civil rights time because of the response by white residents of the Mississippi community: They didn’t look the other way, as was typical when blacks were violated by whites. Instead, they pursued and prosecuted the murderers.
You can preview One Night of Madness on Amazon, where McMillan originally published it via CreateSpace in November 2009. It won a 2010 Independent Publishers Book Award for Best Regional (South) Non-fiction and, according to Publishers Weekly, is close to selling out of its original 3,500 print run. McMillan’s father took 51 pictures of the story’s events, and the book contains 21 of them. Others are available on the author’s website. The one you see on the book’s cover received the National Press Photographers Association prize in 1950.