Soledad O’Brien Explores Race, Class and Injustice In New True Crime Podcast Murder on the Towpath

Illustration for article titled Soledad O’Brien Explores Race, Class and Injustice In New True Crime Podcast iMurder on the Towpath/i
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If you’re a fan of true crime podcasts, it can be a real challenge finding a well-produced show anchored by a Black host. Thankfully, award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien is more than equipped to accomplish such a feat and has blessed us all with her latest endeavor, Murder on the Towpath.

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Produced by the fine folks at Neon Hum Media, in conjunction with FilmNation Entertainment, Murder on the Towpath descends upon Washington, D.C’s Georgetown neighborhood to dissect the peculiar circumstances surrounding the 1964 murder of socialite Mary Pinchot Meyer—who just so happened to be involved in an illicit affair with President John F. Kennedy.

In the immediate aftermath of her murder, Ray Crump Jr., a Black man with a questionable alibi, is apprehended and put on trial, setting the stage for lawyer Dovey Johnson Roundtree to rely on her ingenuity and guile in order to eventually earn his acquittal.

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Throw in a couple of conspiracy theories, a contentious racial climate and other fascinating elements, and you have the perfect opportunity for O’Brien to make her auspicious debut in the wonderful world of podcasts.

“I really wanted to explore podcasting and I had a couple of people approach me with different stories, but they weren’t things that I was particularly passionate about,” she told The Root. “I don’t think you could do a documentary on this because you take too many turns.”

She ain’t lying about the turns.

“This story was just kind of crazy. It’s about two women in the 1960s and what society limits are [placed] upon these two women,” she said. “One Black, one white. One wealthy, one sort of scraping to become what she wants to become. But then more than that, you have the story of this affair with the socialite and JFK. We talk about drugs in the White House and then also the idea of like, well, who killed this woman? And why? It seems like it had a lot of threads.”

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There’s also the prevailing themes of civil rights and criminal justice, which draw parallels to many of the same struggles that Black people still face today.

“It’s the trial of a young Black man who is accused of killing a wealthy white woman,” she explained. “Ray Crump himself is a very flawed character. Dovey seemed to think that he had intellectual challenges, but this story is so full of holes. It’s just odd. And there’s no real motive for why he would kill Mary Pinchot Meyer.

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“The fight around criminal justice and giving people a fair chance in court has been going on for a very long time, I think for young people especially, it feels sometimes like these battles are brand new and they’re not.”

But despite Crump being accused of murder, O’Brien believes that Roundtree is the true star of the show, who exhibits the type of Black Girl Magic that far too often goes unsung in the annals of history.

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“[It’s important for Black audiences to know] that Dovey Roundtree existed,” she said. “I never heard of her and I’ve [been in journalism] for a long time. So if I haven’t heard of somebody even in passing, then they’re really missing from the pages of history books. I think that we really do need to remember those people who are trailblazers for us.

“Dovey Roundtree really is Black excellence. [...] She’s just basically a pissed off Black lady when it comes to injustice.”

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Murder on the Towpath is available now on Luminary.

Menace to supremacy. Founder of Extraordinary Ideas and co-host and producer of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. Impatiently waiting for ya'll to stop putting sugar in grits.

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DISCUSSION

If you’re a fan of true crime podcasts, it can be a real challenge finding a well-produced show anchored by a Black host.

I’m not a true crime fan, but a search for international podcast recommendations I did a while back turned up praise for the South African podcast Alibi. My GF listens to the genre, so I recommended it to her, but I don’t think she’s been in one of her podcast moods lately and so hasn’t given any feedback.