What Virtue There Is in Fire
Cultural Memory and the Lynching of Sam Hose

Edwin T. Arnold

How one community suppressed and later confronted a terrible episode from its past


"The lynching of Sam Hose was one of the most notorious, and most fully documented, crimes ever committed in Georgia, but never have we seen it explored or explained as fully as Edwin Arnold does in this multifaceted, vigorously written, and often provocative new study. Arnold makes two gruesome crimes—one with Hose as perpetrator and one with Hose as victim—the centerpieces of a riveting account that sheds significant new light on the socioeconomics, mob mentality, political machinations, community dynamics, and long-term legacy of southern racial violence."
—John C. Inscoe, Editor, The New Georgia Encyclopedia

"A provocative and groundbreaking study of one of the most important spectacle lynchings in American history. The only thing more impressive than Arnold’s scholarship is his courage. This story needed to be told, and it needed a bold and careful writer to tell it."
—Christopher Metress, editor of The Lynching of Emmett Till: A Documentary Narrative

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The 1899 lynching of Sam Hose in Newnan, Georgia, was one of the earliest and most gruesome events in a tragic chapter of U.S. history. Hose was a black laborer accused of killing Alfred Cranford, a white farmer, and raping his wife. The national media closely followed the manhunt and Hose’s capture. An armed mob intercepted Hose’s Atlanta-bound train and took the prisoner back to Newnan. There, in front of a large gathering on a Sunday afternoon, Hose was mutilated and set on fire. His body was dismembered and pieces of it were kept by souvenir hunters.

Born and raised twenty miles from Newnan, Edwin T. Arnold was troubled and fascinated by the fact that this horrific chain of events had been largely shut out of local public memory. In "What Virtue There Is in Fire," Arnold offers the first in-depth examination of the lynching of Sam Hose.

Arnold analyzes newspapers, letters, and speeches to understand reactions to this brutal incident, without trying to resolve the still-disputed facts of the crime. Firsthand accounts were often contradictory, and portrayals of Hose differed starkly—from "black beast" to innocent martyr. Arnold traces how different groups interpreted and co-opted the story for their own purposes through the years. Reflecting on recent efforts to remember the lynching of Sam Hose, Arnold offers the portrait of a place still trying to reconcile itself, a century later, to its painful past.

Page count: 264 pp.
15 b&w photos
Trim size: 6 x 9


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Edwin T. Arnold is a professor of English at Appalachian State University. He is the author or editor of nine books on southern literature and culture and is editor of the Faulkner Journal.