What role did popular culture play during the 1990s in the murder of Westerman and the trial of Darden & Morrow according to Horwitz in Confederates in the Attic?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Popular culture played a significant role in the Westerman murder trial.  Even before the trial itself, the murder of Westermn became appropriated by the emerging culture wars of the early to mid 1990s.  Horowitz points out how the Rebel Confederate flag was being challenged in Todd County with African- Americans displaying the "X" made popular by the Spike Lee marketing of his flim, Malcolm X.  The emerging cultural clash brought on by the emergence of young Black youth seeking to express themselves was countered by silent resistance and dismissiveness on the part of Whites.  This changed with the Westerman murder, in which White Southern society began to rebel, themselves, against what they were perceiving in the community's Black population.  The rift between the two was appropriated by outside agitation as seen in the emergence of the Klan and other similar Heritage societies that sought to depict what happened as the result of a federal government gone astray and a desire to repress Southern individuality and freedom.  The trial itself was influenced by the taking down of the Confederate flag, the source of the problems, "And, because the recent O.J. Simpson verdict had outraged many whites in rural Tennessee, the defense, anticipating a jury trial, had decided against emphasizing race."  In one of the most telling moments about how popular cultural stereotypes played into the trial, the mother of the accused Morrow, Cynthia Batie,  confronts the family of the widowed Westerman with a fierce exchange where cursing and near assault transpires.  As both parties are separated, popular culture rears its head in Horwitz's narration:

The two camps huddled chain-smoking, and muttered about the incident, each giving vent to vicious stereotypes. In Cynthia Batie's mind, Hannah and the Westermans were bigoted rednecks, just as the imagined Westerman had been, and their friends were closet Klansmen. To the Westermans, Batie represented, in the words of Michael's mother, JoAnn, "the motormouth with a motor," and uppity city black who stirred things up, just the way her son had.

In this sad representation of where race relations in many parts of the South and America, in general, are, Horowitz posits how the role of race played a major role in the Westerman murder trial.
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