Alexandria, VA

Several Alexandria organizations collaborated virtually to memorialize the 1897 lynching of Joseph McCoy.

McCoy was murdered by a lynch mob today (April 23) in 1897 at the corner of Lee and Cameron Streets in Old Town. Today, Alexandrians placed a wreath at the site of the killing to honor McCoy.

Today I had the honor of helping to place this wreath in memory of Joseph McCoy. He was lynched on the SE corner of…

Posted by Maddy McCoy on Thursday, April 23, 2020

The dedication is part of a broader effort by Alexandria to bring the city’s history of racial violence to light as part of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI).

“Alexandria exists because of the incredible history that has occurred in our community,” Mayor Justin Wilson said in a video. “Over recent years we have worked very hard to ensure a more just, complete, and equal telling of our history ensuring that future generations learn from the good and the bad. It’s those principles that have guided our participation in the Equal Justice Initiative’s Community Remembrance Project, to ensure that the stories of the two violent race lynchings that occurred in our community is something we can learn from in generations to come.”

A city proclamation told the story of the lynching.

McCoy, a teenager, was accused of sexually assaulting three women in Alexandria, according to the proclamation. He was arrested without a warrant and denied the charge. He was held in what is today City Hall. McCoy reportedly confessed to the crime after interrogation. A mob gathered but was repulsed, and at 1 a.m. a second attack overwhelmed the officers at the station. McCoy was pulled from his cell and dragged to the corner. The Washington Post at the time said McCoy was left hanging from the lamp post for 15 minutes before he was cut down. He was pierced by several bullets and struck in the head with a cobblestone.

Another lynching, of a man named Benjamin Thomas, occurred a few years later in Alexandria. Both names are on a pillar created by the EJI Community Remembrance Project that commemorates the victims of lynching. Eventually, the city plans to bring the pillar from Alabama up to Alexandria to be placed in a prominent location.

KaNikki Jakarta, poet laureate of Alexandria, wrote a poem to commemorate McCoy.

Black Boy
Born to Ann and Samuel as Reconstruction ended
And the era of Jim Crow started
Left many family members broken hearted
Before his life as a man officially began
A sorrowful trend amongst black families
Tugging on heart strings to rejoice or weep
when black boys are birthed
A blessing and a curse on a family tree
Because we’re never sure if someone will kill you
And write you down in history untrue
After accusing you of crimes like
Assaulting someone white
Talking back to someone white
Looking at someone white
Whistling at someone white
Despite putting up a fight or screaming a denial
You might get a trial
But it will be unjust
Although you initially denied it all
I think you thought it was best to confess…
This is not a history that belongs to you alone
And if you would have grown
Just a bit older
You may have cried on someone’s shoulder
Two years later over another black boy named Benjamin Thompson
Who shares this story too
I wish I could talk to you
I would ask you what really took place
I wish I could look upon your face
to hear your story
The way that you would have it told
The way that circumstances would unfold
On April 23, 1897
Truth is, I want to pen your story
But the newspapers don’t show
What happened all of those years ago
But this is what I know…
You were born Joseph McCoy
You had four siblings and you were the youngest boy
And before you were ever thought to be
Your grandmother Cecilia McCoy was born free
More than a half century
Before you were lynched
Hanged from a lamppost and shot multiple times
No family members would claim your body
And no one was ever charged with a crime
But, this is not the part of your story that I would want to tell
I don’t want to recap the horrible night a mob of 500 retrieved you from jail
I don’t want to write about your how your funeral was held
Instead,
I would like to highlight
That despite the fact you didn’t celebrate your 21st birthday
Today,
123 Years Later
You are celebrated
You are remembered
A legend, a light
Shining bright
even in your absence
An ancestor whose story far surpassed the details of your death
A part of history that will let in peace be the way you rest
No one remembers the names of the people who took your life
They don’t get glory for spreading bitterness and strife
But you
Joseph McCoy
A black boy
Born to Ann and Samuel as Reconstruction ended
And the era of Jim Crow started
Whose death left many family members broken hearted
Before his life as a man officially began
A horrific trend
In black history
Another tragedy
But your history will be one remembered alongside
Others who were also lynched, shot, or hanged
But we will remember your name
Because your history is within my pen now
Within my words now
A black writer
Who decided to write about you in a positive way
But still today
We are left with the question
Who could you have grown to be?
If they would not have killed you

McCoy’s funeral was held at Roberts United Methodist Memorial Church. James Daniely, the current pastor at the church, offered a prayer in McCoy’s honor.

Photo via City of Alexandria

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