Underwood, James Lowell. Deadly Censorship: Murder, Honor & Freedom of the Press. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2013. xiii + 308 pages. Hardcover, $39.95.
Speaking of the infamous killing of progressive journalist Narciso Gener Gonzalez in 1903, legal scholar James Lowell Underwood opens his history of the crime with a calibrated statement: "This killing initially gained notoriety because it took place in broad daylight in the shadow of the State House, on the busiest corner of the capital city, and the victim was an unarmed journalist of national reputation" (p. ix). He notes also that the shooter was none other than James Hammond Tillman, Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina who had only moments before closed the day's sessions of the State Senate over which he presided. Yet even the sensational aspects of the murder trial are secondary to the question that frames this painstakingly developed study: "[H]ow did freedom of the press, not James H. Tillman, become the real, though not the legal, defendant in the case?" (p. x).
Working both as a jurist thoroughly familiar with the law and as a South Carolinian well versed in the state's unique history, Underwood examines newspaper reports of the trial and the transcript records and other accounts of things that "made their way over the transom" of the jury room. Although quite a scholar, Underwood at times is less the professor and more the "country shrewd" lawyer, reveling in his good story before an appreciative courtroom. There is verisimilitude with his gracious plenty of specific information about state law and local practice of another era (such as the jury pool being drawn from a hat by a small child who certifiably could not read or write). And, for a state always dominated by race consciousness and family relations and connections (as he notes from political scientist V.O. Key's 1949 classic, Southern Politics), Underwood pays appropriate attention to the dense tangle of cousins on both sides of the dispute as well as the nuances of the racial struggles at the heart of the political contests (everyone comes across as racist, but the supporters of Gonzales favored Jim Crow segregation to ensure peace and to stop lynching, while the Tillmanites favored sharper restrictions on black people, and hinted darkly at their own personal involvements in lynching).
Examining the strategies of the big teams of lawyers for both sides, Underwood shows that the physical evidence and...