Hayden's Ferry Review


Book Review: Thirteen Loops by B.J. Hollars

Thirteen Loops: Race, Violence and the Last Lynching in America, by B. J. Hollars.
The University of Alabama, 2011.
Creative Nonfiction.
Review by Debrah Lechner

Thirteen Loops examines the role of the lynching of Black men in American society, particularly as a reaction to the struggle for civil rights, from about 1933 to 1981. It’s a cogent and valuable history, documented extensively in a lengthy bibliography; it is an important academic document. It is more than that, though. It is written in story form, conversationally, as though recounted by a friend, and this form makes it a very personal experience to read. It makes Thirteen Loops one of those rare books that is impossible to put down, that is transformative, that will remain forever in memory.

The title of the book refers to the thirteen loops in the noose that was used to murder Michael Donald, a young black man randomly assaulted by two Klan-influenced men.
Thirteen loops killed Michael Donald.
Of course, others might argue that racism killed Michael Donald, or madness, but it was the loops as well. It was the rope and the men who wielded it, tying knots with a surgeon’s precision.
A utility knife did not kill him, or a tree limb, or the hanging itself.
Michael Donald died because Henry Hays pressed his boot to the young man’s face, because he and Tiger Knowles took turns tugging the rope, pulling so tightly that the bones fractured in Michael’s neck.
Hollars is unsparing of detail in his recounting of these events, and not just in the gore and injustice of the atrocities, but in describing the humanity of all persons involved.

We learn the origin of Tiger’s nickname.

We hear about what death row was like for Henry Hays, and in that the comparison between lynching and execution is inevitable. Hollars does not dwell on such questions didactically. It is more than enough to be exposed to the reality in order to raise troubling questions about our cultural reliance on violence, and the violence we of which we may each be capable. (There are photographs in this book as well: study the faces.)

We learn that Michael Donald loved basketball.
Though I didn’t know him, this is the way I choose to remember him; the ball gripped tightly in his hands or weaving between his legs, his shoulder tucked low, releasing for the easy layup. Or playing defense, perhaps, cutting off the lane and forcing the ball. Shooting the three, the free throw, the short jumper. The pass, the chest pass, boys toppling to the wooden floor before laughing and picking themselves back up.
Meet Michael Donald, and open your mind and heart by reading Thirteen Loops: Race, Violence, and the Last Lynching in America.

B. J. Hollars is the editor of You Must Be This Tall to Ride: Contemporary Writers Take You Inside the Story and has published in a number of journals. Visit his personal website. Thirteen Loops will be available for purchase soon from most vendors. Find it on Amazon here.