Iowa Murder 50 Years Ago Frames U.S. Racial Divide


Writing in Faction Magazine, Stephen G. Bloom explores in depth a forgotten homicide that occurred 50 years ago in an Iowa City tavern. Robert Lee Washington, who is black, shot and killed John Cavanaugh, who was white, after a racially tinged argument. Washington was convicted in the case and served a prison sentence. Bloom tracked down the principles or their survivors and reconstructed the lives of the two men, framed by the American racial dynamics of that era.

Bloom writes, “Those four gunshots that ended Cavanaugh's life were not heard around the world, but the murder, context and aftermath are universal. The killing of John Cavanaugh in Iowa City on a sweltering August afternoon in 1964 reflects a flashpoint on the continuum of race relations in America…The murder is a prism through which we can view the uneasy truce between blacks and whites. The story behind the charged confrontation reminds us of how fractured this nation was—and how fractured it remains.”

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