Lynching case rivets Brooks despite legal woes

Sixty-seven years ago this week, four people — including a pregnant woman — were lined up at a secluded spot in Walton County known as Moore’s Ford and executed.

They were beaten, sexually mutilated and riddled with dozens of bullets. The pregnant woman’s baby was cut out of her body. No one has ever been arrested, charged or convicted in the murders, reputed to be the last time so many black Americans were lynched at one time.

Since 1968, state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, who was 10 months old when the murders took place, has been on a quest to name the killers.

But earlier this week, when he would normally have been focusing on the anniversary, the Atlanta Democrat was in court on charges of mail, tax and wire fraud — charges he claims are retaliation for his refusal to let the case die.

In May, when Brooks was hit with the 30-count indictment, he said the FBI was trying to silence his claims that the murders could never have happened or been covered up without the “active participation of law enforcement.”

Neither the FBI nor the U.S. Attorney’s office would discuss Brooks’ accusations. Brooks’ attorney, former Gov. Roy Barnes, said he could not comment on any connections between the indictment and the lynching.

In the indictment, Brooks is accused of personally using nearly $1 million in donations that were supposed to go to two charities he runs. One of those charities, the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, sponsors an annual reenactment of the slaughter at Moore’s Ford.

Brooks has pleaded not guilty, and last month a three-member panel voted not to suspend him from the House.

No one among the state’s ranks of elected officials has endorsed Brooks’ claims of a federal conspiracy to discredit him. And a journalist responsible for identifying the killers in several infamous 1960s-era race murders calls Brooks’ quest for justice quixotic, given that all the killers are likely dead by now.

Nevertheless, tomorrow will find Brooks where he has been for the past several years: in Walton County, overseeing the yearly reenactment of the crime.

“This is one of the worst things to ever happen in this state,” he said. “This is a stain on our history and a burden on our souls.”

The brutality of the Moore’s Ford murders was epic — even in terms of lynchings.

On July 14, 1946, Roger Malcom, a 24-year-old field hand, stabbed a white farmer whom he suspected of having an affair with his pregnant wife, Dorothy Malcom.

Eleven days later, another white farmer bailed Malcom out of jail, ostensibly in order to hire him to work in his cotton fields.

Once Malcom was freed, he and his wife, her brother George Dorsey, a World War II Army veteran, and his wife, Mae Murray Dorsey, drove east on the Atlanta-Athens highway. They turned onto a dirt road leading to Moore’s Ford, where they were met by several carloads of men — anywhere between 24 and 200. The four never had a chance.

In the wake of the massacre, the FBI came to the county, but could never crack the case.

In 1968, when Tyrone Brooks was a field lieutenant for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Hosea Williams sent him to Walton County to meet with a local undertaker, Dan Young.

Brooks, 21 and brash at the time, arrived at Young’s mortuary alone. Young told Brooks to follow him to the basement and asked if he had ever heard of the Moore’s Ford lynching. Brooks said no, so Young – who had prepared the bodies – pulled out photographs of its aftermath.

“I was completely blown away,” Brooks said. “I have never seen dead people like that. He showed me these horrible photos, and it still brings chills to me.”

On March 20, 1968, Brooks and Young met with SCLC leaders ask for help in publicizing the case. Among those at the meeting were Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph David Abernathy.

“I remember Dr. King saying, “When Ralph and I finish in Memphis, we are coming to Monroe,’” Brooks said.

Two weeks later, while King was in Memphis, Brooks was sent to Walton County to prepare for a visit that never happened. King was assassinated on a Memphis hotel balcony.

“So why is this important to me? Brooks asked. “I was in that county the night Dr. King was assassinated. I want to finish his work.”

In 1999, Brooks started working to re-open the case. A year later, then-Gov. Barnes ordered the Georgia Bureau of Investigation — armed with $25,000 in reward money — to do so. By 2004, Brooks was holding mass rallies in Walton. In 2005, he began the reenactments.

“These reenactments are a healing,” said the Rev. Cassandra Green, who directs them. “Blacks down there are still in fear to even talk about it, because of the stigma in the air that the good old boys are still watching.”

But is anyone really watching?

Jerry Mitchell, an investigative reporter for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., wonders if anything can come out of such a musty case.

“Something this old, you can write it down that everyone is dead,” Mitchell said. “I am working on a 1962 case now, and I can tell you from that one, that you are getting to the edges of what you can possibly do when you start getting to a half century. I would be stunned if there is anybody alive to prosecute.”

Mitchell would know. A 2009 recipient of a MacArthur Fellows “genius grant,” his investigative work has led to convictions in some of the most high profile civil rights murders in history. They include the 1963 assassination of Medgar Evers, the 1966 firebomb killing of NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer, the 1963 bombing that killed four black girls in a Birmingham church and the 1964 “Mississippi Burning” case, in which three civil rights workers were murdered.

But Brooks keeps pushing. In April, he and NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous interviewed a man who implicated several of his relatives. Brooks would not reveal the man’s name, or the names on a list of potential suspects that he and his allies have gathered.

Janis L. McDonald, co-director of the Cold Case Justice Initiative at Syracuse University’s College of Law, has been working with Brooks for several years providing research assistance and legal analysis.

“That community knows what happened,” said McDonald, adding that it is still too early in her research to have unlocked the secret. “There are still folks around who can come forward.”

About the Author

Editors' Picks