JULY 18, 1965

Credit: Courtesy of the City of Anniston, Alabama

Willie Brewster was heading home after working at a pipe foundry near Anniston, Alabama, when he was shot and killed by three white men. Back home, his two children and his wife, Lestine, now pregnant, were waiting for him. Shots struck his spine as the men passed. 

The men belonged to the National States Rights Party, a violent neo-Nazi group whose members had been involved in church bombings and killings of African Americans. The men had just heard the group’s Connie Lynch declare, “If it takes killing to get the Negroes out of the white man’s streets and to protect our constitutional rights, then I say, yes, kill them!” They did as he told them. 

Months later, jurors sentenced Hubert Damon Strange to 10 years in prison for killing Brewster. It was believed to be the first case in Alabama where an all-white jury convicted a white man of killing a Black man in Alabama. He never served time behind bars. Instead, while he was out on bond, he was killed in a bar fight.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.