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Local Spotlight: Investigating the 1958 death of James Brazier

Police in Dawson, Georgia beat a local Black man, James Brazier, in 1958. He died days later. No one was ever held accountable.
Police in Dawson, Georgia beat a local Black man, James Brazier, in 1958. He died days later. No one was ever held accountable.

The fourth season of “Buried Truths” investigates the death of a Black man in a town known for its violent, racist treatment of people of color. In 1958, James Brazier died of brain damage days after police beat him on his front lawn.

A local police officer, Weyman B. Cherry, was notoriously violent with Black residents. His Georgia County earned the moniker “Terrible Terrell.”

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

In 1958, when Jim Crow laws were very much still in force in this part of southwest Georgia, Cherry was particularly rankled by Brazier, who had recently purchased a new showy, chrome-packed 1958 Chevrolet Impala, bright blue with a white top. A Navy World War II veteran, Brazier and his wife worked multiple jobs to cobble together a comfortable middle-class existence with their four children.

But Brazier made more money than Cherry and this offended him to no end. So he targeted Brazier, pulling him over and beating him in 1957. In April of 1958, he stopped Brazier’s father and when Brazier tried to calm the situation, Cherry and fellow police officer Randolph McDonald instead beat Brazier on his front lawn. A badly injured Brazier was taken to jail and doctors did not properly treat him. Brazier died soon after from head trauma.

By investigating cold cases, “an entirely new kind of justice can still be achieved: the judgment of history,” investigative journalist and “Buried Truths” host Hank Klibanoff, told Axios.

We talk to Klibanoff about investigating the cold case and “Terrible Terrell.”

This is part of a series called “Local Spotlight,” where we cover local stories that deserve national attention. Have a suggestion about what we should feature? You know where to find us.

Copyright 2023 WAMU 88.5

Avery Jessa Chapnick