24 Years After White Supremacists Lynched Her Dad, Daughter Speaks Out About Trauma and Journey to Peace

Three men were convicted for James Byrd Jr.'s death in Jasper, Texas. Two were given the death penalty and a third was given a life sentence

Jamie, James, Ross Byrd. Credit: Courtesy Byrd Family
Photo: Courtesy Byrd Family

There was no such thing as a stranger in Jasper, Texas (pop. 8,000), until the early morning of June 7, 1998.

James Byrd Jr., a Black man, was walking home from a friend's party when he was approached by three white men — Shawn Berry, Lawrence Brewer and John King. They abducted the 49-year-old father of three and took him to a remote area where they spray-painted his face, brutally beat him and chained him to the back of a pickup truck.

They dragged him for three miles on an asphalt road before leaving his torso in a Black cemetery. The lynching horrified the nation.

"My dad's funeral was closed casket. We didn't get those last final goodbyes with my dad," says Byrd's daughter, Jamie Byrd, who was 16 at the time. "I believe they targeted my dad because he was walking. It was an easy pickup."

JAMES BYRD
Jasper Newsboy/REX/Shutterstock

Within days, the FBI and local authorities arrested the suspects. Brewer and King, both avowed white supremacists, received death sentences and were executed in 2011 and 2019, respectively. Berry, who confessed and cooperated with police, was given a life sentence.

To read Jamie Byrd's story about her father's lynching and its aftermath in her own words, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week's issue, on newsstands Friday.

The racial divide in Jasper, located in an area of East Texas that has a history of slavery, racial violence and lynchings, has slowly improved over time. Byrd's murder, in the context of the town's history, is the focus of the Monday, July 18 episode of People Magazine Investigates. Titled "Evil Comes to Jasper," the episode airs at 9 ET on Investigation Discovery and discovery+. (An exclusive clip is shown below.)

In the year following her father's death, Jamie and her older siblings Ross and Renee were instrumental in passing the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in Texas, with Congress following suit in 2009.

It has taken decades for Jamie — now a Houston police officer — to make peace with what happened, even as she says it's a journey she'll be navigating forever.

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"I did not forgive those three individuals for a very, very long time. Actually, just recently, I found in my heart to forgive them, and it was more so for myself, and for my peace of mind," says Jamie, who released a book in October about her story and pursued a career in law enforcement to help give other victims' families closure.

"I had to release the hate that I had held on for so many years because I wanted to live a life of prosperity and a life of peace."

The horrific lynching of James Byrd, Jr. is the subject of People Magazine Investigates ("Evil Comes to Jasper"), airing Monday, July 18 at 9 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery and also streaming on discovery+.

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