Author T.J. Ray joined us on Thursday for a sensational Books and Lunch featuring his new book, Side by Side: Moonshine and Murder in Mississippi. Dr. Ray is a retired professor of thirty years, having taught classes at the University of Mississippi in various subjects in English language and literature. He lives in Oxford where he continues his distinguished career as a photographer and now author.
Side by Side recounts the true events surrounding the gruesome murder of two federal marshals at the turn of the nineteenth century just outside of our very own Oxford, MS. Will Matthis and his servant Orlando Lester ran a whisky distillery outside of Matthis’ rural home so when the marshals showed up they had no intention of letting them leave. The men were shot and burned inside the Matthis home (and worse although Matthis and Lester were never charged with the full extent of the violence visited upon the marshals). The two culprits were eventually caught and sentenced to hang, that’s right, side by side just South of the Oxford Square. Hangings, Dr. Ray tells us, were hugely popular anyway and ten thousand people showed up that day to see a black man and white man executed together. Among the crowed was none other than young William Faulkner.
I’ll stop the spoilers there and encourage you all to read the full story (trust me, a lot more happens) by purchasing Dr. Ray’s book or borrowing it for free here at your public library.