University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
Title "He Calls Me By Lightning: The Life of Caliph Washington and the forgotten Saga of Jim Crow, Southern Justice, and the Death Penalty"
Date 2017
Author S. Jonathan Bass
Author Institution Samford University
Author Role Faculty
External Link https://www.amazon.com/He-Calls-Lightning-Washington-forgotten/dp/1631492373/
Abstract This biography includes a case study of Washington v. Lee, the case in which the Supreme Court held that jails and prisons could not be generally segregated.

A heroic reconstruction of the forgotten life of a wrongfully convicted man whose story becomes an historic portrait of racial injustice in the civil rights era.

Caliph Washington didn’t pull the trigger but, as Officer James "Cowboy" Clark lay dying, he had no choice but to turn on his heel and run. The year was 1957; Cowboy Clark was white, Caliph Washington was black, and this was the Jim Crow South.

As He Calls Me by Lightning painstakingly chronicles, Washington, then a seventeen-year-old simply returning home after a double date, was swiftly arrested, put on trial, and sentenced to death by an all-white jury. The young man endured the horrors of a hellish prison system for thirteen years, a term that included various stints on death row fearing the "lightning" of the electric chair. Twentieth-century legal history is tragically littered with thousands of stories of such judicial cruelty, but S. Jonathan Bass’s account is remarkable in that he has been able to meticulously re-create Washington’s saga, animating a life that was not supposed to matter.

By rescuing Washington’s unknown life trajectory―along with the stories of his intrepid lawyers, David Hood Jr. and Orzell Billingsley, and Christine Luna, an Italian-American teacher and activist who would become Washington’s bride upon his release―Bass brings to multidimensional life many different strands of the civil rights movement. Devastating and essential, He Calls Me by Lightning demands that we take into account the thousands of lives cast away by systemic racism, and powerfully demonstrates just how much we still do not know.


This Resource Relates To
case Washington v. Lee (PC-AL-0020)
person Billingsley, Orzell (AL)
person Hood, David H. (AL)

back
new search