In January of 2007, the Summer Reading Program Book Selection Committee at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill chose The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, by Sister Helen Prejean, as its selection for the 2007 Carolina Summer Reading Program. Once again, as it had done in previous cycles of the program, the Selection Committee showed that, controversial topic or not, they sought to fulfill their mandate, "to provide a common experience for incoming students, to enhance participation in the intellectual life of the campus through stimulating discussion and critical thinking around a current topic, and to encourage a sense of community between students, faculty and staff."
Soon thereafter, several members of the staff in the Special Collections at Wilson Library began to reflect on what the University Library, as a whole, might be able to contribute to this common experience, specifically how primary source materials might offer a very unique historical perspective to the discussion. We quickly noted that there is a vast array of materials in the University Library that might enable students, teachers, and researchers to study this subject that resonates with each person in a different way.
A constant concern in the development of this guide was that too much of our focus would merely go to illuminating dates on a timeline, simply revealing statistics; and not enough focus on the lives of all of those involved: the victims, the victims' families, the condemned, the families of the condemned, and the community as a whole. Rather than simply hide behind the numbers and the dates, we felt it would be irresponsible if we did not at least attempt to present some of the human side of these stories, to face the controversies head-on by documenting them through letters, photographs, newspaper stories, editorials, and other documents.