In honor of Black History Month, I want to share the story of George Dinning, a former enslaved human, whose southern Kentucky home was attacked by a group of white-color men on January 21, 1897. The men wrongly accused Dinning of stealing livestock; they fired upon Dinning’s home, wounding him in the arm and forehead. (His wife and ten children were also in the home at the time.) With that, Dinning grabbed his rifle and fired back, killing one of the attackers.

Dinning was arrested. Before the incident was over, the mob had burned down his home.

Dinning was later tried for manslaughter in a case that divided Kentucky so much that the governor, William Bradley, had to send troops to prevent mobs from lynching Dinning. A jury of twelve white-color men convicted Dinning, who was sentenced to seven years in prison.

At this point, the story takes a twist. Governor Bradley decided to grant Dinning a pardon; however, he kept the pardon secret for a day to give Dinning and his family a chance to leave the state. The Dinning family ultimately relocated 150 miles away in Indiana, where they also changed their last name to Denning.

A second story twist then occurred: Denning decided to fight back. He found Bennett Young, a Kentucky lawyer, what had formerly served in the Confederate Army. Young took on Denning’s case pro bono and sued the men who had attacked Denning’s home and wounded him. The lawsuit was successful; Denning was awarded $50,000 (which in 2021 dollars would be $1.5 million)(!!). Unfortunately, Denning was able to recover only a small amount of the judgment, and as a consequence, his descendants believe that justice was not truly achieved.

This incredible story is the subject of a new book, A Shot in the Moonlight: How a Freed Slave and a Confederate Soldier Fought for Justice in the Jim Crow South. The book’s author, Ben Montgomery, shared that he wanted to tell the story of a black man that didn’t end in tragedy. Certainly, he seems to have found that with George Denning!

To read more, click here for a CNN piece about this incredible story and Montgomery’s book. Wow!