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The Ballad of Little River

by: Paul Hemphill

Album Artwork

(The University of Alabama Press)

The Ballad of Little River: A Tale of Race and Unrest in the Rural South revolves around church arson in Little River, Alabama. In 1997, Little River, Alabama, emerged as the site of the U.S. government's first conviction under a new hate-crimes law intended to stop a rash of fires set at black churches around the country.

Author Paul Hemphill earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination for his 1993 book Leaving Birmingham, experienced Hollywood adapt his work (Long Gone) to film and over 40 years he wrote 15 books with a rare degree of experience about truck drivers, baseball, football, basketball, roller derby queens, stock car drivers, politics, journalists, musicians and bootleggers.

The Ballad of Little River tells a mean story of racism. In the book's prologue Hemphill provides a backdrop to the story: "It was in the summer of 1997 that I first heard of Little River, Alabama. Not much had happaned in those parts since the massacre of five hundred settlers and slaves in the early 1800s by renegade Creek Indians, but 1997 turned out to be something else. The short version was this: A young black man had been killed while trying to break into a white family's trailer, then a black man had nearly bludgeoned a beloved white store owner to death, and finally a marauding band of white kids had torched a black church and vandalized another during a drunken night of caterwauling only forty-eight hours following a rare Ku Klux Klan rally. This seemed to be the place, all right." 

Hemphill moved to Little River, and entrenched himself with the locals. He spoke with most of the people involved in the dark truths and events surrounding this small town's social problems. In 2008, Hemphill told this writer about The Ballad of Little River: “It was a real bad publishing deal with the wrong people. They didn’t do it right. They didn’t push it. They were busy solving their own problems, like deciding what kind of publishing house they wanted to be. It’s quite different now after all these years they’ve settled down and became a decent publishing house—but they weren’t like that when I did my contract there. It just never worked.”

Read the book and discover Hemphill's gift for storytelling...

James Calemine 


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