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Somebody told me : the newspaper stories of Rick Bragg /
Rick Bragg.
Tuscaloosa : University of Alabama Press, c2000.
vii, 277 p. ; 25 cm.
0817310274 (alk. paper)
More Details
Tuscaloosa : University of Alabama Press, c2000.
0817310274 (alk. paper)
catalogue key
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
Rick Bragg, Miami bureau chief for the New York Times, won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing. He has also written for the Los Angeles Times, the St. Petersburg Times, and the Birmingham News, and he is the recipient of the American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award
This item was nominated for the following awards:
Southern Book Critics Circle Awards, USA, 2001 : Nominated
First Chapter

Chapter One


At first I wanted to call this chapter "Victims," but that cheapened the people I wrote about. I decided on "Survivors" because so many of the people herein were seized by an outside force, terrified or damaged, and let loose to try and live again. I like these people because of their backbone. I do not mind that some of them became haters. Some of them had a right.

* * *

Tried by Deadly Tornado, An Anchor of Faith Holds

New York Times , April 3, 1994

DATELINE: Piedmont, Ala., April 2

This is a place where grandmothers hold babies on their laps under the stars and whisper in their ears that the lights in the sky are holes in the floor of heaven. This is a place where the song "Jesus Loves Me" has rocked generations to sleep, and heaven is not a concept, but a destination.

    Yet in this place where many things, even storms, are viewed as God's will, people strong in their faith and their children have died in, of all places, a church.

    "We are trained from birth not to question God," said 23-year-old Robyn Tucker King of Piedmont, where 20 people, including six children, were killed when a tornado tore through the Goshen United Methodist Church on Palm Sunday.

    "But why?" she said. "Why a church? Why those little children? Why? Why? Why?"

    The destruction of this little country church and the deaths, including the pastor's vivacious 4-year-old daughter, have shaken the faith of many people who live in this deeply religious corner of Alabama, about 80 miles northeast of Birmingham.

    It is not that it has turned them against God. But it has hurt them in a place usually safe from hurt, like a bruise on the soul.

    They saw friends and family crushed in what they believed to be the safest place on earth, then carried away on makeshift stretchers of splintered church pews. They saw two other nearby churches destroyed, those congregations somehow spared while funerals for Goshen went on all week and the obituaries filled an entire page in the local paper.

    But more troubling than anything, said the people who lost friends and family in the Goshen church, were the tiny patent-leather children's shoes scattered in the ruin. They were new Easter shoes, bought especially for church.

    "If that don't shake your faith," said Michael Spears, who works at Lively's Food Market in downtown Piedmont, "nothing will."

    The minister of the Goshen church, the Rev. Kelly Clem, her face covered with bruises from the fallen roof, buried her daughter Hannah on Wednesday. Of all people, she understands how hurtful it is to have the walls of the church broken down.

    "This might shake people's faith for a long time," said Mrs. Clem, who led a congregation of 140 on the day of the storm. "I think that is normal. But having your faith shaken is not the same as losing it."

    Ministers here believe that the churches will be more crowded than usual on Easter Sunday. Some will come for blessings, but others expect an answer.

    Mrs. Clem and her husband, Dale, who is also a minister, do not believe God sent the storm that killed their daughter and 40 other people across the Southeast in a few short hours that day. The Clems make a distinction between God's laws and the laws of nature, something theologians have debated for years: what does God control, and not control?

    The people here know only that they have always trusted in the kindness and mercy of God and that their neighbors died in His house while praising His name. It only strengthens the faith in some people, who believe that those who die inside any church will find the gates of heaven open wide.

    Others are confused. Beyond the sadness and pain is a feeling of something lost, maybe forever.

    "It was church," said Jerri Kernes, delivering flowers to a funeral home where the dead and their families filled every room.

    "It isn't supposed to happen in church."

    The blooming dogwood trees stand out like lace in the dark pine barrens in the hills around Piedmont. The landscape is pastoral, mountain ridges and rolling hills divided by pastures of fat cows and red-clay fields that will soon be high cotton and sweet corn.

    The people, the children of farmers, mill workers, carpenters and steelworkers, now make tires at the Goodyear plant in Gadsden, spin yarn at the cotton mill and process poultry for Tyson Foods Inc., which is known here as just the chicken plant.

    Yet, Piedmont, population 5,200, depending on who is home, exists in the failed economic promise of the New South. The roof on the empty brickyard has rusted through, and the pretty little train station on the Selma, Rome & Dalton line is just for show. The cotton mill just had a new round of layoffs.

    As economic uncertainty grows, the people go to the altar for hope, said Vera Stewart, Piedmont's 70-year-old Mayor. Piedmont, after all, has two doctors' offices but 20 churches.

    "As long as we have our faith, we are as strong as our faith," Mrs. Stewart said. "Because no matter how dark it is, if I have faith, I have a song in the night."

    But in the long days since last Sunday, when the sky opened, she, too, has felt that belief tremble. What all the troubles of the everyday failed to do, one sudden, violent moment did.

    Tornadoes snapped 200-year-old trees and ruined houses and lives in five states. Goshen was the centerpiece of an agony shared by Spring Garden, Rock Run, Possum Trot, Bennefield's Gap, Knighten's Crossroad and Webster's Chapel. At Mount Gilead Church, about 10 miles from Goshen, the wind pulled tombstones from the earth and smashed them.

    People here are accustomed to the damage that the winds do, but what happened at the Goshen church last Sunday was off the scale of their experience. Rescue workers found neighbors limp and broken on the ground, and strong men sobbed like babies in the arms of other men when the last of the living and dead had been dug from the rubble.

    In a makeshift morgue in the National Guard Armory, one volunteer wiped the faces of the dead children before zipping up the body bags. The bags were too long, and had to be rolled up from the bottom.

    But in the days after, the shock started to wear off, and the pride took hold again. So, when the truckloads of donated food and clothes arrived, some of the needy refused aid because they did not earn it with their own sweat.

    Sam Goss runs a filling station, and believes in heaven the same way he believes that walking in the Coosa River will get him wet.

    Mr. Goss, 49, stood in a line 50 yards long to pay respects to the dead at the town's largest funeral home. He smoked a cigarette, cried and talked of going to Glory.

    He was a friend of Derek Watson, who died with his wife, Glenda Kay, and their 18-year-old daughter, Jessica. Mr. Goss said Derek, who worked at the Super Valu, had not planned to go to church that day but changed his mind.

    "Maybe that's what people mean when they say God works in mysterious ways," Mr. Goss said. "I know the boy. He could not have lived if his wife and child were gone."

    It is the same reason, he said, that God took both Ruth Peek, 64, and Cicero Peek, 72.

    "It's hard not to question God in this," he said. "But they say there ain't no tears in heaven. We're the ones left to hurt. You see, God took them because he knew they were ready to go. He's just giving all the rest of us a second chance."

    The first step toward healing might have been in a funeral processional for a child.

    In life, 4-year-old Hannah Clem had been a dancer and painter and singer.

    In death she has become a focus of the question why.

    For three days Kelly and Dale Clem worked for their friends and parishioners and swallowed their own pain, gracious and strong. They did not shake their fist at heaven, but told Vice President Al Gore that a better storm warning system might have saved lives.

    It was wind and not God, they said, that killed their daughter.

    "My God is a God of hope," Mr. Clem said. "It is never his will for anyone to die."

    It is a departure from the Christian mainstream belief that God controls all. But then so is Mrs. Clem herself, a female minister with a growing congregation in a small town in the Deep South.

    On Wednesday, she followed Hannah's tiny white and pink casket up the aisle at the First United Methodist Church in Anniston, 20 miles from Goshen. Members of her congregation and old friends filled the church.

    "People have asked, why did it happen in a church," said the Rev. Bobby Green, in his service. "There is no reason. Our faith is not determined by reason. Our faith is undergirded by belief, when there is no reason."

    In the Bible, Palm Sunday is a day of destruction, not hope, he said. Hope comes later, on Easter Sunday.

    The 400 mourners stood and said the Lord's Prayer. Then, Hannah's coffin was moved slowly back down the aisle to the hearse. The organist played "Jesus Loves Me."

* * *

On Walls, Memories of the Slain Are Kept

New York Times , January 28, 1994

Somewhere, between one more killing in the inner city and the obscurity of the grave, is a wall in Brooklyn.

    Khem Hubbard recorded her brother's name there last week, in big silver letters. Now Kyle Rasheim Hubbard, 19, shot to death on Jan. 6, 1990, will be remembered in a New York neighborhood where the dead disappear in the crowd.

    The memorial wall at the corner of Crown Street and Bedford Avenue in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn is like the ones in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the ones in the South Bronx, the ones in Harlem. They hold the names of dead children, innocent bystanders, stone-cold killers, untrue lovers and fallen angels.

    They are remembered with elaborate murals that plead for a stop to the senseless killing, or just a few thin lines scrawled by a friend with a felt-tip pen and a broken heart. They tell us that PAPA RESTS IN PEACE, and that Kiki has found God.

    No one is sure how many walls there are in New York, or how many inner-city victims have taken their place on the lists of the dead that decorate the sides of dry cleaners, clinics and corner stores. People who live beside the walls guess that there are hundreds scattered around the city, embroidered with thousands of names. Around the nation are thousands more, from Atlanta to Los Angeles.

    The dead have been carried off to cemeteries outside the inner city, but people here like to believe their spirit is still in the neighborhood and


Copyright © 2000 Rick Bragg. All rights reserved.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 2000-05-01:
This collection displays Bragg's ability to capture time and place in a vivid prose that is consistently eloquent, sincere, and sympathetic. In his introduction, Bragg (All Over but the Shoutin') credits his storytelling family with teaching him how to listen and relate a tale. He acknowledges that "the best stories in the newspaper are those of people in trouble, and those are the ones I care about writing." This anthology of over 60 articles includes Bragg's work with the Birmingham News, the St. Petersburg Times, and the New York Times, where he is currently the Miami bureau chief. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist's works on the Oklahoma City bombings, the Susan Smith case, and schoolyard killers, among others, are collected here. Bragg's respect for ordinary people allows him to shape his stories with clarity and compassion. His book reminds the reader that lives go on and stories need to be written down so they won't be forgotten after the headlines fade. Recommended for all public and academic libraries.--Pam Kingsbury, Florence, AL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews,
Library Journal, May 2000
New York Times Book Review, June 2000
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Publisher Fact Sheet
This compilation of stories showcases Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Bragg's talents for turning seemingly ordinary situations into extraordinary stories. Bringing together more than sixty of his most recent feature articles, his unique storytelling talent & ability to look beyond the headlines are displayed.
Unpaid Annotation
The Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and author of "All Over but the Shoutin'" now takes a look beyond the headlines for extraordinary tales of ordinary people and their life struggles.
Table of Contents
Introductionp. 1
Tried by Deadly Tornado, An Anchor of Faith Holdsp. 4
On Walls, Memories of the Slain Are Keptp. 8
Still Haunted, Families See Justice in Shape of a Killer's Gravep. 13
The Valley of Broken Heartsp. 16
Four Walls to Hold Me
Where Alabama Inmates Fade into Old Agep. 23
Inmates Find Brief Escape in Rodeo Ringp. 28
A Thief Dines Out, Hoping Later to Eat Inp. 33
Man Imprisoned for 30 Years Is Rid of Bars but Not Fearsp. 37
Prisoner's Pittance Is Meant As Reminder of a Great Lossp. 43
Hurtful Things
New York's Bodegas Become Islands under Siegep. 47
"I Never Seen Nothing Like That,"p. 53
Living in Another Worldp. 61
Where a Child on the Stoop Can Strike Fearp. 67
The Story of Dirty Redp. 74
Town Secret Is Uncovered in Birth Questp. 82
Woman, Sold as Infant in '65, Grasps at Clues to Her Rootsp. 87
New Development Stirs Old Casep. 92
Autism No Handicap, Boy Defies Swampp. 100
Silver Hair, Golden Years
All She Has, $150,000, Is Going to a Universityp. 105
Band Plays On for Class of '39p. 109
Woman Clings to Her Paradisep. 116
Little Women Look Back on a Lost Worldp. 119
Country Club Meets Enemy: Country Music and Pigsp. 123
The King Is Long Dead, but Long Live the Kingp. 126
Savoring a Sweet Taste of Southern Summersp. 130
A Delicacy of the Past Is a Winner at Drive-Inp. 133
A Sugar Bowl Lacking a Certain Sweetnessp. 135
George Corley Wallace
Emotional March Gains a Repentant Wallacep. 140
A Symbol of Alabama's Past, Indelible to Black and Whitep. 143
Wallace Remembered, for Who He Was and Who He Becamep. 147
In New Orleans, a Day for Visiting the Deadp. 151
A Coach's Shrine, the Fatima of Alabama Footballp. 154
A Balladeer of Bluegrass Is Now Gone Yet Lives Onp. 156
Bourbon and Bayous
French Quarter's Black Tapping Feetp. 160
In a Louisiana Bayou Town, "Uncle Pat" Is the Lawp. 164
In Louisiana, Card Game Reveals the Cajun Spiritp. 166
Cajun Christmas Tradition Refuses to Die Downp. 169
To Bind Up a Nation's Wound with Celluloidp. 174
Just a Grave for a Baby, but Anguish for a Townp. 180
Racism Wins in Small Town in Texasp. 183
Fort Bragg Area Is Haunted by Ghost and Two New Deathsp. 189
Unfathomable Crime, Unlikely Figurep. 193
For Jasper, Just What It Didn't Wantp. 196
In Shock, Loathing, Denial: "This Doesn't Happen Here,"p. 200
Tender Memories of Day-Care Center Are All That Remain after the Bombp. 202
Oklahoma Toll Is No Longer in Deaths, but in Shattered Livesp. 206
In Oklahoma City, Recovery a House at a Timep. 212
Altered by Bombing, but Not Bowedp. 215
An Agonizing Search for Two Boysp. 219
Mother of "Carjacked" Boys Held in Their Deathsp. 222
Sheriff Says Prayer and a Lie Led Susan Smith to Confessp. 225
Psychiatrist for Smith's Defense Tells of a Woman Desperate to Be Likedp. 228
Father Testifies in Penalty Part of Smith Trialp. 231
Carolina Jury Rejects Execution for Woman Who Drowned Sonsp. 234
A Killer's Only Confidant: The Man Who Caught Susan Smithp. 238
Arkansas Boys Held as Prosecutors Weigh Optionsp. 242
Determined to Find Healing in a Good and Decent Placep. 246
Past Victims Relive Pain As Tragedy Is Repeatedp. 250
Jonesboro Dazed by Its Darkest Dayp. 254
Murder Trial Opens for First School Shooting Defendantp. 259
Arkansas Boys Who Killed Five Are Sentencedp. 261
Living and Dying
Living with a Grief That Will Never Diep. 266
On Florida Bridge, Troopers Are Also Suicide Counselorsp. 270
Jazzy Final Sendoff for Chicken Manp. 274
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

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