“Jasper is located in a part of eastern Texas with a horrible history of racial strife,” Gwynne says, but the community has worked long and hard “to keep the lines of communication open” between the races. White and black churches have stayed in touch with each other and the schools have provided an additional avenue for dialogue. The contacts have helped build “a relatively enlightened” attitude on race relations, says Gwynne. No one will really ever know what drove King to his madness, but the maintenance of the dialogue is one of the important factors that helped Jasper maintain its sanity.
The lesson to be gleaned from Jasper, Texas, is not that a racist murderer, John William King, was convicted and sentenced to die on Thursday for the horrific dragging death of a black man behind a pickup truck. The lesson, says TIME correspondent Sam Gwynne, is that the community did not blow apart over the crime; it let the criminal justice system run its course.