A History Scarred by Lynchings

By Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 7, 2005


Negro Lynched in Alexandria

Early This Morning


Pistols Were Fired and the Mob Was

Beyond Restraint.

As soon as the Assault of the Negro Became Known, the Angry Citizens Planned His Death . . . Four Men Arrested for Being a Party in the Lynching, but Immediately Released by the Mayor. The Coroner Notified, but no Investigation of the Affair has been Commenced . . . "

It was April 23, 1897, and Page 1 of The Washington Post announced the latest lynching in the area -- the slaying of Joseph McCoy, 20, who had been accused of assaulting the 9-year-old daughter of his employer.

"They dragged him out of the station house, up Fairfax Street to Cameron, down Cameron to Lee, where they quickly put a rope around his neck. It took but a second to jerk him off his feet. The crowd broke into great cheer as the negro was seen dangling in the air . . . "

According to historical records, McCoy was among 100 Virginians, including at least 11 in Northern Virginia, who were lynched between 1882 and 1968, the years for which Tuskegee University in Alabama has kept archives. The lynchings were among 4,743 reported nationwide during the same period.

Lynching was never a federal offense. The U.S. House of Representatives three times passed measures to federally outlaw mob violence, but each time, the proposals were killed in the Senate by southern lawmakers, the Congressional Record shows.

On June 13, the U.S. Senate approved Resolution 39, co-sponsored by Sens. George Allen (R-Va.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), apologizing for never having enacted federal anti-lynching legislation -- the first time the body had acknowledged an atrocity committed against African Americans.

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