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City plans commemoration for lynched Black Alexandrian

Memorial post for victims of Alexandria lynchings (photo via City of Alexandria)

Roughly 122 years after his murder, Black teenager Benjamin Thomas is being memorialized this week on the anniversary of his death at the hands of a white lynch mob.

Thomas, one of two recorded victims of lynching in Alexandria, was killed on Aug. 8, 1899. He was 16 years old.

Thomas was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a white neighbor. Fearing a repeat of the earlier lynching of Joseph McCoy in 1997, a group of Black men arrived at the police station offering to help defend Thomas but were dismissed and threatened with arrest. A mob assaulted the jail later that night, and a description of the lynching describes how Thomas was assaulted by more than 2,000 white people before he was hanged from a lamp post.

McCoy was murdered two years before Thomas, who was memorialized with a wreath laying in April. A marker memorializing both victims of lynching will be unveiled at Market Square and at the site of the lynching near the corner of King and Fairfax Streets on Sunday, Aug. 8, from 7-8 p.m.

“A remembrance program, wreath-laying, and marker unveiling will be held at Market Square, and the lynching site (near the corner of King and Fairfax Streets) as part of the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project,” the city said in a press release. “Visitors can pay their respects by visiting the site and learning about the lynching.”

This week, City Hall, the Carlyle House, and the George Washington Masonic Memorial will be illuminated in purple for mourning.

“This lighting is intended to demonstrate belated accountability for the incident, while showing honor and respect for Thomas,” the city said.

Additionally, tomorrow (Tuesday) historian LaNitra M. Berger will host a program exploring lynching photography and representations of lynching in American art, and how they contextualize racial violence. The program is free and virtual.

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