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A Shot in the Moonlight: How a Freed Slave and a Confederate Soldier Fought for Justice in the Jim Crow South

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The sensational true story of George Dinning, a freed slave, who in 1899 joined forces with a Confederate war hero in search of justice in the Jim Crow south. “Taut and tense. Inspiring and terrifying in its timelessness.”(Colson Whitehead, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad ) Named a most anticipated book of 2021 by O, The Oprah Magazine Named a "must The sensational true story of George Dinning, a freed slave, who in 1899 joined forces with a Confederate war hero in search of justice in the Jim Crow south. “Taut and tense. Inspiring and terrifying in its timelessness.”(Colson Whitehead, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad ) Named a most anticipated book of 2021 by O, The Oprah Magazine Named a "must-read" by the Chicago Review of Books One of CNN's most anticipated books of 2021  After moonrise on the cold night of January 21, 1897, a mob of twenty-five white men gathered in a patch of woods near Big Road in southwestern Simpson County, Kentucky. Half carried rifles and shotguns, and a few tucked pistols in their pants. Their target was George Dinning, a freed slave who'd farmed peacefully in the area for 14 years, and who had been wrongfully accused of stealing livestock from a neighboring farm. When the mob began firing through the doors and windows of Dinning's home, he fired back in self-defense, shooting and killing the son of a wealthy Kentucky family. So began one of the strangest legal episodes in American history — one that ended with Dinning becoming the first Black man in America to win damages after a wrongful murder conviction. Drawing on a wealth of never-before-published material, bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize finalist Ben Montgomery resurrects this dramatic but largely forgotten story, and the unusual convergence of characters — among them a Confederate war hero-turned-lawyer named Bennett H. Young, Kentucky governor William O'Connell Bradley, and George Dinning himself — that allowed this unlikely story of justice to unfold in a time and place where justice was all too rare.


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The sensational true story of George Dinning, a freed slave, who in 1899 joined forces with a Confederate war hero in search of justice in the Jim Crow south. “Taut and tense. Inspiring and terrifying in its timelessness.”(Colson Whitehead, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad ) Named a most anticipated book of 2021 by O, The Oprah Magazine Named a "must The sensational true story of George Dinning, a freed slave, who in 1899 joined forces with a Confederate war hero in search of justice in the Jim Crow south. “Taut and tense. Inspiring and terrifying in its timelessness.”(Colson Whitehead, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad ) Named a most anticipated book of 2021 by O, The Oprah Magazine Named a "must-read" by the Chicago Review of Books One of CNN's most anticipated books of 2021  After moonrise on the cold night of January 21, 1897, a mob of twenty-five white men gathered in a patch of woods near Big Road in southwestern Simpson County, Kentucky. Half carried rifles and shotguns, and a few tucked pistols in their pants. Their target was George Dinning, a freed slave who'd farmed peacefully in the area for 14 years, and who had been wrongfully accused of stealing livestock from a neighboring farm. When the mob began firing through the doors and windows of Dinning's home, he fired back in self-defense, shooting and killing the son of a wealthy Kentucky family. So began one of the strangest legal episodes in American history — one that ended with Dinning becoming the first Black man in America to win damages after a wrongful murder conviction. Drawing on a wealth of never-before-published material, bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize finalist Ben Montgomery resurrects this dramatic but largely forgotten story, and the unusual convergence of characters — among them a Confederate war hero-turned-lawyer named Bennett H. Young, Kentucky governor William O'Connell Bradley, and George Dinning himself — that allowed this unlikely story of justice to unfold in a time and place where justice was all too rare.

30 review for A Shot in the Moonlight: How a Freed Slave and a Confederate Soldier Fought for Justice in the Jim Crow South

  1. 4 out of 5

    Miranda

    The inspiring true story of George Dinning, a former slave who fought for justice and won, becoming the first Black man in America to win damages after a wrongful murder conviction. On a brightly light night, a mob of restless white men attacked Dinning in his home, while he and his wife and eleven children slept. After the crowd fires shots into the Dinning home, wounding Dinning, he fired back and hit the son of a wealthy landowner. The next day, Dinning learned that the man he shot had died, The inspiring true story of George Dinning, a former slave who fought for justice and won, becoming the first Black man in America to win damages after a wrongful murder conviction. On a brightly light night, a mob of restless white men attacked Dinning in his home, while he and his wife and eleven children slept. After the crowd fires shots into the Dinning home, wounding Dinning, he fired back and hit the son of a wealthy landowner. The next day, Dinning learned that the man he shot had died, so he turned himself in to the law right away. His family's home was burned to the ground, his family sent packing without a chance to even dress for the winter weather, with small children walking barefoot into the next county and safety with family. It was 1897, and you might think that a Black man who shot and killed a white man, even in self-defense, would be doomed to hang. Instead, George Dinning stood up to injustice. You won't be able to put this one down until you see how Dinning managed to pull off a historical triumph, with the help of some unlikely allies.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Richard Montgomery

    Inherited Hatred Ben Montgomery's "A Shot in The Moonlight" shines a light from our past on the ugly and prevalent race hatred that still exists in the 21st century in the Divided States of America. His book unearths not just one family's sad story a century ago, but tragedy after tragedy of horrors followed by redemption on the edge of insanity. To live in relative freedom, while constantly watching for bad trouble from dark corners, is no way to live. Kneeling on necks in a big city is no less Inherited Hatred Ben Montgomery's "A Shot in The Moonlight" shines a light from our past on the ugly and prevalent race hatred that still exists in the 21st century in the Divided States of America. His book unearths not just one family's sad story a century ago, but tragedy after tragedy of horrors followed by redemption on the edge of insanity. To live in relative freedom, while constantly watching for bad trouble from dark corners, is no way to live. Kneeling on necks in a big city is no less spiteful than a noose and a tree on the lonely edge of town.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Gail

    Halfway through reading this book, I direct messaged a friend of mine on Instagram who is an attorney in Louisville and lives in New Albany, Indiana, right across the Ohio River. I wrote to him: "I'm tearing through this book .. I feel like it's one I wanted to specifically recommend to you bc it's part courtroom drama, part peek at the 19th century social justice movement, part history of Kentucky—all reasons why I thought you might especially be intrigued by it." He affirmed that it did sound li Halfway through reading this book, I direct messaged a friend of mine on Instagram who is an attorney in Louisville and lives in New Albany, Indiana, right across the Ohio River. I wrote to him: "I'm tearing through this book .. I feel like it's one I wanted to specifically recommend to you bc it's part courtroom drama, part peek at the 19th century social justice movement, part history of Kentucky—all reasons why I thought you might especially be intrigued by it." He affirmed that it did sound like a great pick for him. And to me, that is the kind of book "A Shot in the Moonlight" is—one that I might not recommend to everyone, but if you are the type of person for whom any of the above sounds interesting, you will find this to be a page-turner, too. As I read it, I couldn't help thinking how George Dinning's story (a former Kentucky slave who, in defending his home from a mob of angry white men, shot and killed one of the men "kuklux"ing) paralleled Breonna Taylor's (an innocent Black woman living in Kentucky whose door was knocked on by a mob of angry white men). Their stories—and fates—are obviously different, but parallels exist in how both captured the nation's attention in a way that made a difference to the fight for social justice for Black women and men who have been the victims of white supremacy. Along with George Dinning, other fascinating figures in this historical drama include Bennett Henderson Young, the Louisville lawyer and former Confederate soldier who chose to represent Dinning in a lawsuit the men filed on his behalf against the mob who forced Dinning and his family to flee their home (which they then burned) and Bill Bradley, Kentucky's progressive governor who gained a reputation at the turn of the 20th century for standing up against white mobs brutalizing Blacks. (He also pardoned Dinning after his trial, in which he was accused of manslaughter.)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing a copy for review. A Shot in the Moonlight follows the story of former slave, George Dinning, and his trial against the mob that tried to murder him in Jim Crow South. Along the way he finds allies in some unexpected places, from the sheriff of the county, to Bennett Young, his lawyer, to the Governor of Kentucky. I had a hard time putting this one down. The tension throughout the story kept me turning the pages. The Dinning case was the fir Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing a copy for review. A Shot in the Moonlight follows the story of former slave, George Dinning, and his trial against the mob that tried to murder him in Jim Crow South. Along the way he finds allies in some unexpected places, from the sheriff of the county, to Bennett Young, his lawyer, to the Governor of Kentucky. I had a hard time putting this one down. The tension throughout the story kept me turning the pages. The Dinning case was the first of its kind in the South. A freed slave successfully fights his would be lynchers and wins in federal court. The amount of research Ben Montgomery had to do is pretty impressive. The fact that were so many first hand accounts just goes to show how much of an impact this case had on the nation. I also found the dichotomy of his Confederate veteran lawyer to be interesting. Here is a man who fought for the South in the war, then fought for statues of Confederate soldiers to be erected, while at the same time funded and helped operate multiple charities and foundations to help the Black community. He took on cases for many Black people, including George Dinning, for free, and was viewed as a friend by the Black community in Kentucky. This is definitely worth the read, if for no other reason then it shows how much has changed, and also just how little has changed.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Helen

    Ben Montgomery tells a great story here, one that's part tragedy, part hopeful triumph and part exploration of one very complex character. A white mob descends on George Dinning, the freed slave, in the middle of the night, ordering him to leave his Kentucky home. Dinning defends himself with birdshot, which kills one of his assailants, and is arrested for murder. His family is forced to flee and his home is burned to the ground. What makes this true story different from so many horrific tales o Ben Montgomery tells a great story here, one that's part tragedy, part hopeful triumph and part exploration of one very complex character. A white mob descends on George Dinning, the freed slave, in the middle of the night, ordering him to leave his Kentucky home. Dinning defends himself with birdshot, which kills one of his assailants, and is arrested for murder. His family is forced to flee and his home is burned to the ground. What makes this true story different from so many horrific tales of mob rule, lynching and incarceration in the Jim Crow south, is that Dinning and his allies fought back, winning political support and a precedent-setting legal victory. His chief supporter was that complex character, Dinning's lawyer, Bennett H. Young. Young somehow managed to be both a champion of the lost cause of the Confederacy and the welfare of freed Black people. Montgomery has a gift for telling the stories of people history has largely forgotten. I think this is his best book yet, although Grandma Gatewood's Walk will always be my favorite.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. A fascinating book about former slave George Dinning's arrest, trial and acquittal in Kentucky during the late 1800's. It seems impossible that a black man during this time period would get a fair trial nonetheless get set free, and what makes it even more incredible was the number of white men that helped make this happen. The book used a contained a number of court transcripts to tell the story and that was interesting also. It really put the reader right in the courtroom to follow along with A fascinating book about former slave George Dinning's arrest, trial and acquittal in Kentucky during the late 1800's. It seems impossible that a black man during this time period would get a fair trial nonetheless get set free, and what makes it even more incredible was the number of white men that helped make this happen. The book used a contained a number of court transcripts to tell the story and that was interesting also. It really put the reader right in the courtroom to follow along with the trial. All and all a very well researched and very interesting.

  7. 5 out of 5

    ManOfLaBook.com

    For more reviews and bookish posts please visit: https://www.ManOfLaBook.com A Shot in the Moonlight: How a Freed Slave and a Confederate Soldier Fought for Justice in the Jim Crow South by Ben Montgomery tells the true story of George Dinning, a freed slave in the American South and the way he made history. Mr. Montgomery is an award winning reporter and Pulitzer Prize finalist. This was one of these books that you find once in a while which you simply cannot put down. Mr. Montgomery knows how to For more reviews and bookish posts please visit: https://www.ManOfLaBook.com A Shot in the Moonlight: How a Freed Slave and a Confederate Soldier Fought for Justice in the Jim Crow South by Ben Montgomery tells the true story of George Dinning, a freed slave in the American South and the way he made history. Mr. Montgomery is an award winning reporter and Pulitzer Prize finalist. This was one of these books that you find once in a while which you simply cannot put down. Mr. Montgomery knows how to tell a story, building a narrative, and tension while keeping the narrative flowing. A Shot in the Moonlight: How a Freed Slave and a Confederate Soldier Fought for Justice in the Jim Crow South by Ben Montgomery follows a freed slave, George Dinning, an honest, hardworking family man by all accounts. Mr. Dinning lives in Kentucky, the Jim Crow South, and prospering via his work ethic, brains, and good nature. One evening a mob comes to his farm demanding he’d leave town or be lynched. Mr. Dinning was accused of stealing meat and burning a smokehouse – with absolutely no evidence and no history of doing anything even remotely close. The mob shot at the house, Mr. Dinning returned fire and killed one of them, a prosperous white man. Mr. Dinning, not a stupid man by any means, rode miles away and handed himself into a sheriff he knew would try to protect him. This was dangerous as law men were intimidated by mobs and often gave into lynching to save their own skins. His case would have to be tried in federal court though, since he didn’t have any rights in Kentucky to sue white people. Mr. Dinning made history by being the first freed slave to successfully fight his would be white killers. The research Mr. Montgomery has put into this book is impressive, the writing even more so. As a true reporter, the author relies on first-hand accounts, while describing the far reaching implications for Kentucky, African-Americans, and the nation as a while. This book has many fascinating characters, George Dinning of course, but also his lawyer Bennett H. Young. Mr. Young was a man of contradictions. A Confederated soldier, who simultaneously fought for the erection of Confederate monuments, while at the same time operating charities to help the African-American community as well as working pro-bono in the courts, being viewed as a friend for the community. A fantastic book, telling an amazing story of an important chapter in American history. An important book to read, especially at these trying times.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sara Broad

    One night around midnight, George Dinning's house is surrounded by a gang of white men who shoot into his house, and in return, Dinning fires back and kills one of the white gang members. "A Shot in the Moonlight" details Dinning's trial and the efforts of one side to get him convicted through a false narrative of what really happened that night. On the flip side, through the trial and once Dinning is convicted, he finds many surprising allies that fight for his freedom. The amount of material t One night around midnight, George Dinning's house is surrounded by a gang of white men who shoot into his house, and in return, Dinning fires back and kills one of the white gang members. "A Shot in the Moonlight" details Dinning's trial and the efforts of one side to get him convicted through a false narrative of what really happened that night. On the flip side, through the trial and once Dinning is convicted, he finds many surprising allies that fight for his freedom. The amount of material that Ben Montgomery was able to access to tell this story is pretty amazing. The book is definitely worth a read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Matlow

    I actually give this book 3.5 stars but rounded up. Here’s the reason: Though the story is very compelling in the beginning and end, the middle of the book seems like it can be covered in the span of a New Yorker article. It unfortunately is not surprising all the violent racist behavior that plagued the civil war era. The lynchings and systematic racism is disturbing, but I’m not sure it needs the multiple examples as laid out in the novel in order to get the point across. That said, it is very I actually give this book 3.5 stars but rounded up. Here’s the reason: Though the story is very compelling in the beginning and end, the middle of the book seems like it can be covered in the span of a New Yorker article. It unfortunately is not surprising all the violent racist behavior that plagued the civil war era. The lynchings and systematic racism is disturbing, but I’m not sure it needs the multiple examples as laid out in the novel in order to get the point across. That said, it is very well written - so even though I thought it was going nowhere further than outlined on the covers subtitle, the authors style kept me fully engrossed (hence a 4 instead of a 3.5). As we discover toward the end of the book, the distinction between this horrendously racist journey and others is the precedent that was set. I won’t spoil it here but I am surprised the incident hasn’t been passed down to the elementary school history books. We have an ugly past in this country. The author does a stellar job painting the picture of that ugliness and the struggle for a lower castes truth to over power the upper castes lies. #netgalley #ashotinthemoonlight

  10. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    While I would have appreciated more exposition about the fascinating people- George Dinning, lawyer Bennett Young- who populate this volume, overall this was a fantastic read. I kept picturing the Dinning family (father George, mother Mollie and their 11 children) hearing the approach of 25 white men outside their home in the middle if the night for obviously no good reason. What terror they must have felt. Despite my fear of guns, I was relieved when I read of the backlash all across the nation a While I would have appreciated more exposition about the fascinating people- George Dinning, lawyer Bennett Young- who populate this volume, overall this was a fantastic read. I kept picturing the Dinning family (father George, mother Mollie and their 11 children) hearing the approach of 25 white men outside their home in the middle if the night for obviously no good reason. What terror they must have felt. Despite my fear of guns, I was relieved when I read of the backlash all across the nation against Dinning’s conviction for manslaughter for the accident death of Jodie Conn. Dinning was clearly defending his home and his family against a mob, and it is hard to argue otherwise. The author mined numerous primary sources including the trial transcript (including the suit for damages in Federal court), first-person accounts and especially the often horrifying to read overtly bigoted contemporaneous newspaper columns. We may not be all the way there in today’s society in terms of racial equality, but the blatant racist language in some of these newspaper columns was hard to read. I listened to this as an audiobook, and it is wonderfully read by narrator Zeno Robinson with the author’s note read by the author himself. M

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rebekah

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. George Dinning was the first African American to sue a group of would be-lynchers in a mob and win. They shot him, threatened his family, and burnt down his home. They had him arrested for murder when he was protecting his home and family. He was sentenced to 7-years in jail but received an unusual and rare pardon from the governor. Sadly, the media was blatantly biased and reported intentional “fake news” to bias the readers against George Dinning. While the racist mentality and words were clear George Dinning was the first African American to sue a group of would be-lynchers in a mob and win. They shot him, threatened his family, and burnt down his home. They had him arrested for murder when he was protecting his home and family. He was sentenced to 7-years in jail but received an unusual and rare pardon from the governor. Sadly, the media was blatantly biased and reported intentional “fake news” to bias the readers against George Dinning. While the racist mentality and words were clear, this book demonstrates that truth is elusive when hate and racism are in the hearts of men.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    It was ok, but I felt that the word-by-word court transcript was overdone...it just went on and on and on. And the connection between a freed slave and a Confederate soldier wasn't exactly as sensationalized as the title suggested it to be. In other words, Mr. Denning didn't seek out this person for assistance, it was more a shared acquaintance where one needed the other to reap the benefits that each wanted. It was ok, but I felt that the word-by-word court transcript was overdone...it just went on and on and on. And the connection between a freed slave and a Confederate soldier wasn't exactly as sensationalized as the title suggested it to be. In other words, Mr. Denning didn't seek out this person for assistance, it was more a shared acquaintance where one needed the other to reap the benefits that each wanted.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Caleb

    Montgomery did a phenomenal job recreating the story of George Dinning’s criminal and civil cases. It’s sad how 100+ years later there are still vigilantes (e.g. George Zimmerman) that go unpunished for murdering POC’s. This book was reminiscent of some cases discussed in “Stand Your Ground” by Caroline E. Light. I must accept I don’t understand how Col. Young could be a Confederate sympathizer while supporting the rights of minorities.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Krisette Spangler

    My only complaint was that the book should have been shorter. Too many court testimonies and newspaper articles were printed word for word. It got a little repetitive, and I found myself wishing the book would end.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ralph Plagman

    Excellent book. A intriguing and moving story about George Dinning, a freed slave, and Bennett Young, a Confederate war hero who later became a distinguished attorney. Their combined efforts attacked mob rule in Kentucky in the 1890’s. A quick read but powerful!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Amy Plourde

    Maybe bc I listened to it was the reason I found it unengaging

  17. 5 out of 5

    Pete Zilla

    An interesting moment in history that seems particularly relevant with today’s ongoing race and social issues.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Edward Sullivan

    A remarkable true story from the Jim Crow era about a former Confederate officer helping a freed slave get justice from a white mob who terrorized him and his family.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Deb Cunningham

    Very well written and informative. Gave me historical references with the personal story. Would like to meet the great grandson...Author Montgomery research is amazing.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kelli

  21. 5 out of 5

    Abbey Given

  22. 5 out of 5

    Eric

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rebekah

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lee

  26. 5 out of 5

    C.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jordan

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lilyana Sullivan-Lista

  29. 4 out of 5

    Becky A

  30. 4 out of 5

    Carol

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