Jesse Hill Ford

Jesse Hill Ford (December 28, 1928 – June 1, 1996) was an American writer of Southern literature, best known for his critical and commercial success in short fiction as well as the novels Mountains of Gilead and The Liberation of Lord Byron Jones.

Jesse Hill Ford
Born(1928-12-28)December 28, 1928
Troy, Alabama
DiedJune 1, 1996(1996-06-01) (aged 67)
GenreSouthern literature


He was born in Troy, Alabama on December 28, 1928. Ford was raised in Nashville, Tennessee. He attended Montgomery Bell Academy and received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Vanderbilt University. His education was interrupted by the Korean War, during which he served in the United States Navy. Following his discharge, he enrolled in the University of Florida, where he received a Master of Arts in 1955. After graduation he worked as a public relations director, but in 1957 he decided to devote himself to writing on a full-time basis. He and his family moved to Humboldt, Tennessee. Two years later, he won an Atlantic Monthly prize for the short story The Surest Thing in Show Business. In 1961 he spent a year at the University of Oslo as a Fulbright Scholar and published his first novel, Mountains of Gilead, and in 1964 he wrote both the teleplay and theatrical scripts of The Conversion of Buster Drumwright.

One year later, Ford published The Liberation of Lord Byron Jones, which was selected by the Book of the Month Club. A critical and commercial success, it earned him a Guggenheim Fellowship for fiction writing, and was later adapted by Ford and Stirling Silliphant for a 1970 feature film directed by William Wyler. Other works by Ford include Fishes, Birds, and Sons of Men, a compilation of his early short stories; The Feast of Saint Barnabas, which focused on a Florida race riot; and The Raider, a historical novel set in Tennessee before and during the American Civil War.

In 1971, Ford shot a black soldier, Pvt. George Henry Doaks Jr., 19, he believed was a threat to his 17-year-old son, Charles, when he saw Doaks' car parked on his private driveway.[1] Coincidentally, the man's female companion was a relative of the woman who had served as the basis for The Liberation of Lord Byron Jones. He also contributed guest columns to USA Today in 1989 and 1990, after changing from political liberal to hard-core conservative. Without former Atlantic Monthly editor Edward Weeks to encourage and shape his work, he was unable to successfully write literary fiction, although he continued to play the role of Southern gentleman/author.

He was initially indicted on a charge of first degree murder by a Gibson County Grand Jury and released on $20,000 bond at the preliminary hearing.

He eventually returned to Nashville where, severely depressed following open-heart surgery and the publication of his collected letters, he committed suicide on June 1, 1996.[2]


  1. ^ "Author Denies Intent to Kill Black. Ford Says He Was 'Worried Sick' on Night of Killing". New York Times. July 3, 1971. Retrieved 2012-08-26. Jesse Hill Ford, whose thinly fictionalized best-selling novel about racial injustice, "The Liberation of Lord Byron Jones," angered both whites and blacks in this small west Tennessee city, swore today that he was not even aiming his rifle when he shot and killed a Negro soldier on his property last Nov. 16.
  2. ^ Robert McG. Thomas, Jr. (June 5, 1996). "Jesse Hill Ford, 66, a Novelist Who Wrote of Race Relations". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-08-26. Jesse Hill Ford, the novelist whose haunting examination of the destructive relations between the races in his native South helped sow the seeds of destruction of his own acclaimed literary career, took his life on Saturday at his home in Nashville. He was 66 [sic] and had undergone open heart surgery six weeks ago. ...