When three stones are thrown from different directions into the same lake, the impact of each stone will create a wave. Their ripples will travel over the water’s surface until they meet, combine for an instant and then flow on. In The Rope: A True Story of Murder, Heroism, and the Dawn of the NAACP, the three stones are the hideous lynching of a Black man in Memphis in 1892, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the 1874 establishment of Asbury Park, New Jersey, a town founded on the contradictory principles of redemption and white supremacy. At their confluence is the fate of Tom Williams, an African American man accused in 1910 of the brutal murder of a young white girl in Asbury Park.
Author Alex Tresniowski weaves together the stories of two people who never met but who would have a tremendous impact on Williams: Ida B. Wells, an African American journalist, and Raymond Schindler, probably the most famous private detective in 20th-century America. Tresniowski traces how Wells was impelled by the brutal murder of a dear friend to evolve from a reporter into an anti-lynching activist of extraordinary courage, determination and effectiveness. Her work eventually results in the NAACP’s intervention in Williams’ case. Schindler’s involvement in the Williams case is more direct, as he is hired to find the true killer. Rejecting the racist assumptions of the Asbury Park police, Schindler relentlessly employs psychological insight and intellect to solve the crime. Wells and Schindler are utterly dissimilar people except that they shared a firm belief in the value of every human—and the courage to act on that belief.
Tresniowski draws upon his experience as a true crime author and former human interest writer for Time and People magazine as he recounts this tale. The Rope is full of rich historical detail, forensic insight and, most especially, a keen understanding of human motivations. It is also a timely reminder that justice is best served when it is compassionate and unbiased.