Born on May 2, 1949, in Beaumont, Texas, James Byrd Jr. was the third among eight children born. His parents, Stella and James Byrd Sr., raised the family in an East Texas community called Jasper, and their lives revolved around church life.
While Byrd's mother served as a Sunday School teacher, his father was a deacon at the Greater New Bethel Baptist Church. A young Byrd also contributed by singing and playing the piano.
In 1967 Byrd graduated from Jasper Rowe High School as part of the last segregated class in its history.
Despite an excellent academic record and encouragement from his parents, Byrd did not follow his two older sisters to college. Instead, he married a few years out of high school and fathered three children: Renee, Ross and Jamie. Byrd worked sporadically as a vacuum salesman but struggled with alcoholism, and spent a few years in prison for petty theft.
Byrd and his wife divorced in 1993, and he returned to Jasper in 1996 and set out to improve his life by entering Alcoholics Anonymous.
His friends and family described him as a friendly father and grandfather who was charismatic, musically talented and generally well liked.
On June 7, 1998, he accepted a ride from three white men who said they would drive him home. Instead they drove to a vacant lot and beat him, chained him to the back of a truck and dragged him to his death.
He remained conscious most of the ride until his left arm and head was severed when his body slammed into a culvert.
The killers kept driving for a few miles before dumping the rest of his body infront of a black church.
His brutal murder made national headlines, with two of the assailants drawing the death penalty. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law.
Yesterday the second of his three killers, John William King, was executed by leathal injection.
( Russell Brewer was executed the same way in Sept. 21, 2011. The third killer, Shawn Allen Berry, was sentenced to life in prison)
#racism #jamesbyrdjr #kkk #murder #Texas #hatecrime #usa #1998 #news