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Committee Established to Research Lynchings in Alexandria’s History

Officially, there are two lynchings in Alexandria’s history, but a new investigation by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) hopes to discover whether there were more that went unrecorded.

The two documented lynchings were of Joseph McCoy in 1897 and Benjamin Thomas in 1899. At a meeting of the Equal Justice Initiative on Nov. 16, Audrey Davis, director of Alexandria’s Black History Museum, said that one of the seven committees in EJI’s Alexandria branch is dedicated to conducting research to “find out if there were any other lynchings in Alexandria we’re not aware of.”

Davis said the committee is also researching McCoy and Thomas to see if they have any living descendants.

Eventually, Davis said the EJI hopes to collect soil from the two lynching sites and hold a marker dedication at or near those locations. The group is planning a trip to claim a marker from the Community Remembrance Project, an effort dedicated to cataloging racial violence in the United States between the end of reconstruction in 1877 and 1950.

“Restorative justice for 1890s racial terror [means] acknowledging the shameful past through commemorative events, marker placement, public programming and research,” Davis said. “We hope to install markers around the city and will follow city guidelines for signage.”

Krystyn Moon, president of the Alexandria Historical Society, said that mob violence was used in Alexandria as a tool of oppression.

“Violence is, of course, used to reinforce the racial status quo, here in Virginia and here in Alexandria,” Moon said.

Moon said the violence was not limited to the two recorded lynchings. On Dec. 26, 1865, a group of Confederate veterans attacked black residents of Alexandria and there was one reported death. Unlike so many other times in American history when perpetrators of racial violence against the black community were not brought to justice, the mob in this case faced punishment.

“What’s extraordinary is not just that we had a riot, but the fact that a military tribunal was convened and found 11 members guilty and sent them to jail,” Moon said.

Aside from the two known lynchings, Moon said there were at least three other instances — two in 1904 and one in 1922 — of individuals who were threatened with lynching and had to be moved out of Alexandria and to Fort Meyer for their protection.

The next meeting of the EJI in Alexandria is scheduled for Jan. 15 at 7:30 p.m. in the Beth El Hebrew Congregation (3830 Seminary Road).

Photo via City of Alexandria

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