After they cut Joseph H. McCoy down from the lamp post, the coroner ruled that death had come by strangulation. There was a gunpowder burn on his face, three gunshot wounds in his chest, and he had been hit on the head with a cobblestone.

Witnesses said the mob had used a battering ram to break down the door of the Alexandria police station, had overwhelmed the police, and carried McCoy off to Cameron and Lee streets, where he was lynched to cheers from the crowd.

No one in the mob could be readily identified. The perpetrators were “person or persons unknown,” according to the inquest.

On Thursday, 123 years after the April 23, 1897, lynching, Alexandria held a virtual remembrance, in which Mayor Justin M. Wilson apologized and promised that the city would never forget.

“The city had planned a large community gathering at the McCoy lynching site … on April 23,” Audrey P. Davis, director of the Alexandria Black History Museum, wrote Thursday. But because of covid-19 restrictions, a virtual ceremony had to be held.

“Over recent years, we have worked very hard to ensure a more just, complete and equal telling of our history,” Wilson said in a video presentation that went with the commemoration. So that “future generations learn from the good and the bad.”

Between 1882 and 1968, Wilson said 100 Virginians were lynched, including 11 from Northern Virginia. They were among 4,743 reported lynchings nationwide during the same period. A second lynching took place in Alexandria in 1889, when Benjamin Thomas was hung on a separate street corner.

“The city of Alexandria condemns such acts and apologizes for its lynching history,” Wilson said. “The city seeks to inform all of our past and our troubled racial history, and to bear witness to these atrocities.”

McCoy, the grandson of a free African American washerwoman, had been accused of sexually assaulting three young daughters of a white businessman, Richard Lacy, for whom he had worked for 16 years, Wilson said in reading an official city resolution.

“McCoy was arrested without a warrant, and he denied the charge,” Wilson said. McCoy was locked in a cell in the Alexandria police station, where Alexandria city hall is now. McCoy was interrogated and reportedly confessed, “despite his earlier denial.”

There were no lawyers, no legal proceedings, no testimony, no trial. “The negro was not given opportunity to say anything,” The Washington Post reported. “The crowd was too impatient.”

He was a “negro ravisher,” the Alexandria Gazette and Virginia Advertiser said. “The righteous indignation of old Alexandria was aroused.”

The mob had tried to seize McCoy a few hours earlier but were beaten back by the police. They returned and overwhelmed authorities, according to newspaper accounts. Police reportedly fired their guns in the air, but it had no effect.

Some reports said leading Alexandria citizens were among the mob. Others said civic leaders just urged on the mob. Several residents were arrested and then released. The police were exonerated, with officials saying they had done all they could.

McCoy was placed in a pine coffin reportedly supplied by the state of Virginia because his family had refused to pay for the cost of the funeral.

“As the people killed him, they will have to bury him,” said an aunt who called at the undertaker’s to see the body, an Alexandria newspaper reported. McCoy was buried in Penny Hill Cemetery, in a pauper’s grave.

“The damage to the city of Alexandria is incalculable,” an African American newspaper, the Richmond Planet, wrote at the time.

“It places that community before the world as a city of lawlessness, where officials disregard their oaths of office and without warrant or excuse suspend the law. What must be thought of a people who would elect such material to office? It shows that the city government is rotten to the core.”

On Thursday, Rev. James G. Daniely, pastor of Alexandria’s Roberts United Methodist Memorial Church, said in a video prayer:

“Our father and our God … we thank you for the life of brother McCoy. … We thank you for his witness. We thank you that even in death he still speaks to us, asking, ‘Do I have an advocate? Do I have someone who will remember me?' ”

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