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Houston Matters

The Legacy Of James Byrd, Jr. 20 Year After His Lynching

Twenty years later, Houston Matters discusses the hate crimes legislation Byrd’s vicious murder inspired.


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Twenty years ago today, on June 7, 1998 in Jasper, Texas, about 130 miles northeast of Houston, James Byrd, Jr. was heading home. The 49-year-old black man accepted a ride from Shawn Berry and his friends, Lawrence Russell Brewer and John King. Byrd new Berry from around town. He wasn't a stranger.

But instead of driving Byrd home, Berry drove to a remote country road, where the three white men severely beat Byrd, chained him to their pickup truck, and then dragged him to death, for nearly three miles.

In a Thursday, June 11, 1998, file photo, the rear of the 1982 pickup truck owned by Shawn Allen Berry of Jasper, Texas, is shown. The vehicle was used in the dragging death of James Byrd, Jr.

The three men were white supremacists and were tried and convicted of murder. Brewer and King received the death penalty. Berry received a life sentence.

The vicious killing shocked the nation and helped prompt passage of state and federal hate crimes legislation.

To look back at the legacy of Byrd and the laws his death inspired, Houston Matters talks with Dena Marks, of the Anti-Defamation League in Houston and Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis.

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