Wednesday, July 28, 2010

1946 lynchings of 4 African Americans in Monroe, Georgia (Videos)

 7th annual reenactment of the 1946 lynching, July 20, 2011 
(YouTube video)

What do you do when you want to call attention to four lynchings that did not have happened July 25, 1946 on the Moore’s Ford Bridge in Walton County, Georgia?  

If you’re Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-GA), an honorary member of the biracial Moore’s Ford Memorial Committee, you advocate reopening the lynchings and perform a reenactment of that dark afternoon, a little after 6 p.m., in Walton County, where four Black sharecroppers were ambushed, physically attacked and mindlessly slaughtered in a hail of bullets fired from the rifles, pistols and shotguns of 15 to 20 Ku Klux Klan.

In 1946 a NBC news broadcast described the mass killings as “one of the most vicious lynchings to stain our national record". Though none of the victims were hanged by the neck, they were, nonetheless lynched by definition: Lynching is the unlawful hanging or otherwise killing of a person by mob action.

The 1,000 member Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials unanimously passed a Resolution March 1999 in which they outlined reasons the cold case should be reopened. 

Lines 2-32 through 2-39 in the Resolution stated: “. . . . after the atrocity, poet Wilborn Victor Jenkins had called the Moore’s Ford Bridge ‘a spot made horrible forever’ and it will remain so, a blight on the national conscience until justice is done".                                                                                      
GABEO president of
Roger Malcolm
said: “This is a stain on our history, and a burden on our soul. But the stain can be erased, and the burden can be lifted".

An afternoon reenactment was staged at the entrance of the Moore's Ford Bridge. It was performed was by an African Americans cast. They played the roles of victims and the KKK, wearing white theatrical masks.  About 200 people attended the reenactment. Some of them were so overwhelmed by the sheer brutality of the murders they were brought to tears. The performance was designed to generate new interest in the 65 year old lynchings. Brooks believed that a couple of the killers were still alive and living in Monroe County as of 1999.

Walton County District Attorney Ken Wynne said June 23, 2010 that he understood the need to bring closure to the case with a successful conviction. However, without new evidence, eyewitnesses, and names attached to an indictment, DA said his hands are tied. A 2001 investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation failed to uncover new evidence and witnesses.

DELIVERED VICTIMS

The murdered sharecroppers were Roger Malcolm, 24, his wife Dorothy Malcolm, 20, sister to George Dorsey, 28, and his wife, Mae Murray Dorsey, 23. Dorothy was seven months pregnant. Like many lynchings in the South that made Americans gasp in shock and disbelief, these horrendous slayings, also known as the "Monroe Massacre" demanded international attention, enlarging the blood stain on America’s racial history.

The Atlanta Daily World, a Black newspaper, covered the mass lynchings from beginning to end. Reaching back into its archives, the paper’s July 28, 2005 issue reprinted some of its 1946 headlines: “Lynching Bee Staged At Monroe”; “Monroe Massacre”; “$10,000 Reward Offered For GA. Lynchers”; “FBI Probers Take Over Monroe Massacre”; “Lynch Victims laid to Rest on GA. Black Sunday”; “White Methodists Blast Monroe Mob”; “Negro Publishers Ask Arnall, Truman to Act On Mobsters".

The murders put people’s rage on edge for two reasons: two victims were women, one seven months pregnant and George Dorsey was a veteran who recently return to the state after being in World War ll.

WHAT HAPPENED ON MOORE'S  FORD BRIDGE

As the story is told, Malcolm stabbed a White farmer, Barnette Hester, in the chest with a pocket knife. The farmer tried to break up a fight between Malcolm and his wife, Dorothy. Hester was not fatally stabbed, but his life stood on the edge of death for a several days. Malcolm had been drinking the day of the stabbing. His wife ran into the yard of Hester, who told Malcolm to leave. He refused. Malcolm was arrested, spending 11 days in jail. His bond was set at $600. Loy Harrison, a White farmer, paid Malcolm's bond.

Dorothy Malcolm and her brother George Dorsey, who had worked for Harrison, as the farmer for help. Reportedly he refused at first but then changed in mind, paying the bond. He said Malcolm could work off the $600 on his 1,000 acre farm. Both couples worker as sharecroppers. Harrison picked up Dorothy, George and Mae Dorsey, taking them to the Walton County jail to bail out Malcolm. 

Speculation is that the ambush that followed was hatched in advance. Harrison took a different route to his farm. FBI investigators said it was not necessay to cross the Moore's Ford Bridge to get to Harrison's farm. The carload of people was abruptly blocked by another vehicle on the one lane wooden bridge. The couples were forcibly removed from the automobile, and taken down a dirt trail out of sight along the Apalachee River, on the border of Walton and Oconee counties. 

Whereas Harrison life was spared, Malcolm (born March 22, 1922), Dorothy (born July 25, 1926), George (born November 1917) and Mae Murray (born September 10, 1922) were tied to a tree or trees, severely beaten, and shot an estimated 60 times at close range. After Mae Dorsey was shot her fetus was cut out of her stomach with a knife by one of the terrorists who ambushed the couples.

According many stories written about the 1946 massacre the sharecroppers were shot so many times it was difficult for family members to recognize them. Malcolm’s body was the most mutilated.  Dorsey had recently returned to Monroe after serving almost five years in World War ll in the Pacific War.
Loy Harrison (L) who bailed Malcolm out of jail is shown in this July 26, 1946 photo, talking to Sheriff  J.  M.  Bond (C) of Oconee County, and Coroner W. T. Brown at Walton County, where the four Blacks were killed near Monroe, Georgia a day earlier. Bond is holding a rope allegedly used to bind the hands of two of the four victims. 



Loy Harrison described a well dressed man who was orchestrating the action. "A big man who was dressed mightly proud in a double breasted brown suit was giving the orders. He pointed to Roger Malcolm and said, 'We want that nigger'. Then he pointed at George Dorsey, my nigger, and said 'We want you, too Charlie'. I said, 'His name ain't Charlie'. Someone said, 'Keep your damned mouth big mouth shut. This ain't your party'".

Over 20 FBI agents were dispatched to Walton County at the request of President Harry Truman, who ordered an investigation into the mass lynchings. As an incentive for eyewitnesses to come forward with information that would lead to an arrest and prosecution, the FBI offered a hefty $12,500 reward. The reward amount was later raised to $64,000, with donations coming from the NAACP, The Chicago Defender Newspaper, labor unions, religious and civic organizations.  

Unfortunately, no one in the tight-knit rural community stepped forward to talk and collect the reward. With the threat of a visit from the KKK, not only were Blacks scared to tell  what they suspected, Whites were equally afraid of vigilante retaliation. The Truman administration formed the President's Commission on Civil Rights are a result of the lynchings.

Harrison was an eyewitness to the massacre, but he said he did not recognize any one in the lynch mob. None of whom had their faces covered. After a six months investigation the FBI named 55 suspects in a 500 page synopsis. Some of the suspects told the FBI they could not remember where they were on the day the massacre. The case was closed without anyone getting arrested or prosecuted. The report revealed that Harrison was a former Ku Klux Klansman, and a well known bootlegger in the area.

It was pointed out in a September 1946 issue of the New Republic magazine that there were several unanswered questions surrounding the investigation. Questions such as: "Why was the bail set so low for Malcolm? Why did Harrison bail Malcolm out of jail? Why did Harrison take a lonely road to his farm instead of the paved highway”? (The Spokesman, July 1, 2005) A New York Times story dated March 31, 2005 stated that Monroe’s Police Chief Ben Dickerson told the FBI that “a mob of White men gathered days later in the woods south of town to figure out how ‘get Roger out of jail,’ presumably to lynch him for the attack on Hester".

A WRITER’S LONE INVESTIGATION

For four years Laura Wexler, a White woman from the North, conducted her own investigation of the lynchings. She wanted to help solve the case with new discoveries. But she ran into a town full of stumbling blocks. She read an uncensored copy of the FBI’s original report, leading her to writing Fire In A Canebrake: The Last Mass Lynching in America, published in 2003. In an interview with NPR’s Renee Montagne, Wexler said, “. . .  in [the] early days after the lynching, telegrams arrived at the White House at the rate of one every two minutes".

Wexler said she got the title of her book after listening to local people. During a Morning Edition interview on NPR, Wexler said, "A canebrake is a thicket of river cane which almost looks like bamboo". When she tracked down some of the names on the FBI list of suspects, she looked them up in current phone books for Walton and Oconee counties. Her next step was to start knocking on doors, seeking interviews. All but two of the suspects had died.

“I ended up talking to a lot of widows,” she told Montagne. “One White man told me, ‘this lynching is like a pile of dog crap. The best thing to do is bury it and go on.’ I did confront two men whom the FBI named as suspects in the lynching in 1946. It was eerie talking with them, but not frightening". she said.

Wexler writes that George and Dorothy Dorsey were the first to be buried. She related that many friends and relatives stayed away from the funeral out of fear. Their “own mother missed the funeral because she had trouble finding someone willing to drive her there. At the funeral the relatives of Mae Murray Dorsey intimated that she was the ‘most innocent’ of the four lynching victims--that she’d been lynched by association. Mae Murray Dorsey, unlike the faces of the three other victims, was not destroyed by gunshots".

She said only 10 people attended Malcolm’s funeral. After the funeral, his grandmother who raised him, fled to Chicago. “I can’t explain the way I felt when I was notified of his death,” she later told a reporter in Chicago. “But something in me died too. They took my boy away from me like a dog".

Wexler writes that Dorsey was entitled to a burial with full military honors, which he received. In 1999 in a military memorial service was held for Dorsey, which was organized by the bi-racial Moore’s Memorial Committee.

Though all four victims were prepared for burial by the Black owned Dan Young’s Funeral Home, they were buried in unmarked graves. The graves were abandoned until the Moore’s Memorial Committee was formed in 1977 to commemorate the victims. The Committee found three of the unmarked graves, giving them proper burials and headstones.

In April 2005 Rep.Tryrone Brooks said this of the 1946 Monroe Massacre, “This was the most heinous collective crime ever perpetuated against African Americans in this state". Sixty years later, no one has been prosecuted for the crimes.

Researching this story I discovered there are many versions of the lynchings. Some writers omitted details; whereas  some writers embellished details, giving a fuller picture of the lynchings. Read Chapter One of Laura Wexler's detailed story of the murders.


An interview with Samuel Hardman
about the lynchings. (YouTube videos)

 
 

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