Current Issue / DU Alumni

Book recounts trial of KKK member James Ford Seale

Cover of "The Past is Never Dead" bookHarry MacLean (JD ’67) wrote The Past is Never Dead: The Trial of James Ford Seale and Mississippi’s Struggle for Redemption (Basic Civitas Books, 2009) with history and the present day in mind. Contemporary racial conflicts heavily influenced his nonfiction legal drama, which carefully examines concepts of justice and humanity in the Deep South.

The story is a detailed account of a long-overdue trial. Ku Klux Klansman James Ford Seale was arrested in 2007 for assisting in the torture and drowning of two black youths. But he committed the crime in 1964, more than 40 years before his arrest. That the case took so long to come to trial — and the fact it came to trial at all — are evidence of the difference in racial attitudes between 1960s Mississippi and the state today, MacLean says. “There could have been two defendants in this case: James Ford Seale and the state of Mississippi,” he writes. “Seale for kidnapping and murder and Mississippi for complicity.”

The gap between the crime and conviction represents Mississippi’s painful struggle with racism. There was no physical evidence during Seale’s trial — and hardly any witnesses testified — but the state still felt a duty to prosecute. Despite this tug-of-war relationship between progress and tradition, MacLean still tries to portray Seale as a human being influenced by the deep-seated racism of his Southern culture.

MacLean, a lawyer and best-selling author, lives in Denver. He graduated magna cum laude from DU and has written several true crime books, including the best-selling In Broad Daylight, which won an Edgar Award and was made into a TV movie starring Brian Dennehy and Marcia Gay Harden. The Past is Never Dead has been nominated for Stanford University’s William Saroyan International Prize for Writing.

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