Town reflects on dragging death ahead of execution
A technology company was almost ready to bring up to 300 new jobs to Jasper, Texas, but in the final stages of recent negotiations, a potential deal-breaker emerged: the community’s history as the place where three white men dragged a black man behind a pickup, killing him.
The 1998 death of James Byrd Jr. was one of the most gruesome hate crimes in U.S. history, and it gave the company president pause in the discussions about where to locate his firm’s newest facility. Local clergy and community leaders made their case that the town of 7,600 people is not defined by a murder that happened almost 21 years ago.
They were able to convince the executive “that we are a lot different than what the world sees us as,” said Eddie Hopkins, head of the Jasper Economic Development Corporation.
The town’s past will be revisited this coming week, when the convicted ringleader in Byrd’s slaying is scheduled to be executed. Local leaders insist Jasper is a welcoming place that punished Byrd’s killers and will never forget what happened to him. But other townspeople, as well as members of Byrd’s family, believe Jasper has never fully accepted the crime’s place in its history. They say some tensions between the white and black communities remain unresolved.