Review #112 // Murder at Broad River Bridge – Bill Shipp

Murder at Broad River Bridge: The Slaying of Lemuel Penn by the Ku Klux Klan

In late 1964, Lieutenant Colonel Lemuel Penn was driving home from Georgia to Washington D.C. with two friends. On the road home, a car skirts around them, and two shot gun blasts slam into the car, and Lemuel Penn.

Why this book?: I’ve been getting into true crime novels recently, and this one sounded interesting.

I would like to thank the University of Georgia Press for sending me a copy of this book via NetGalley.

I have many conflicting thoughts on this novel. In the end, it’s really just an average novel, nothing too impressive, and, despite my initial interest, it really wasn’t that interesting. 

Murder at Broad River Bridge focuses on the civil rights issues during the time period, but one of my biggest issues with this book is how it brushes over these important problems. Shipp would speak on the issues on how it related in Georgia, but he never went on to explain anything else. It felt like he was dismissing the importance. Shipp brushed over basically anything and everything that was included, so it was basically like getting a short overview of the events, rather than getting a detailed account.

While I appreciated some of the proclamations denouncing the KKK in this book, it ultimately amounted to nothing. Having those proclamations in the introduction, only to have the epilogue say why our country would never get rid of the KKK and white supremacists felt counter-productive. I know that it’s non-fiction, but it could have at least ended on a hopeful note for things to get better, rather than comparing the KKK to a cancer returning from remission at full force. (Not a joke.)

There were phrases that were repeated often, like Shipp forgot what he had previously written, and the book was so short that I don’t think it even hit the 100 page mark. Considering the proclamations in the beginning taking up 10 pages, as well as the long epilogue, it’s almost like Shipp was looking to make a grand statement rather than educate.

Another small thing that really bothered me was a certain wording in the epilogue. Shipp describes the KKK as “coming out of the closet” and, while it’s a common phrase, it hit me fairly hard that I had to stop reading. “Coming out of the closet” is a phrase commonly associated with the LGBT+ community, and having that phrase also used with the KKK, a gross, white supremacist group, hurt me. I don’t want anything in the LGBT+ community to be associated with them, and that wording needs to be fixed.

Final Rating: ★★★☆☆


Shipp was probably hoping to document an important event in the history of the US and it’s history with the KKK. However, he blithely brushed over the importance by not staying focused. The repetition of phrases only showed how much he really didn’t pay attention. It could have been better, but it wasn’t a terrible read that I regret entirely. It just could have been better thought out.

Would I Recommend?

I feel like there are better books out there to educate on murders during the civil rights era and the KKK. This book might be a good place to start, as there are further reading recommendations in the back, but I would definitely recommend reading more than just this.

Trigger warnings for murder, violence, racism, white supremacy, race violence, and the n-word slur.

Murder at Broad River Bridge: The Slaying of Lemuel Penn by the Ku Klux Klan

Additional Information:

Published: September 15, 2017

Publisher: University of Georgia Press

Page Count: 94

Genre: True Crime/Non-Fiction/Historical

Synopsis: via Goodreads

First published in 1981, Murder at the Broad River Bridge recounts the stunning details of the murder of Lieutenant Colonel Lemuel Penn by the Ku Klux Klan on a back-country Georgia road in 1964, nine days after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Longtime Atlanta Constitution reporter Bill Shipp gives us, with shattering power, the true story of how a good, innocent, “uninvolved” man was killed during the Civil Rights turbulence of the mid-1960s. Penn was a decorated veteran of World War II, a United States Army Reserve officer, and an African American, killed by racist, white vigilantes as he was driving home to Washington, D.C. from Fort Benning, Georgia.

Shipp recounts the details of the blind and lawless force that took Penn’s life and the sorry mask of protective patriotism it hid behind. To read Murder at Broad River Bridge is to know with deep shock that it could be dated today, tonight, tomorrow. It is a vastly moving documentary drama.

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