Notorious crimes, unacknowledged

It is one of the most notorious crimes of its kind in our state’s history, standing apart even within the ignominious story of racial lynchings in Georgia.

In July 1946, near Monroe in Walton County, a group of men stopped a car with a white man driving and four black passengers, two men and two women.

One of the passengers, Roger Malcolm, was a black farmhand who had just been released from jail on bond after being charged with stabbing a local farmer he worked for, according to reports in this newspaper at the time.

The man driving the car, identified as Loy Harrison, gave a riveting account of what happened after that, near a bridge over the Apalachee River.

When Harrison’s car approached the bridge, he saw that a car was blocking the opposite side of it. When he stopped, another car pulled up behind and a large group of men surrounded his car.

A man pointed a shotgun at Harrison, and others forced the two black men out of the car and bound them together with ropes.

One of the black women “commenced cussing … and called out one of the men’s names whom she evidently recognized,” Harrison said.

So the gang of men pulled the two women out of the car too.

Harrison continued: “They then told me to get out by my car… . I stood beside it while a little short man stood at the end of the bridge and looked down the barrel of his shotgun at me all the time.”

“One of the men asked: ‘You recognize anybody here?’ I replied ‘No.’’’

The gang then dragged Roger and Dorothy Malcolm and George and Mae Murray Dorsey to a field near Moore’s Ford Bridge. They shot them more than 60 times, and left their dead bodies.

Harrison would later say he never saw the four actually being shot, because the men blocked his view. Incredibly, he also said he couldn’t identify any of the men in the group.

AJC reporter Christian Boone recounted details of the story last week on our front page. There’s renewed interest in the case amid reports that the FBI interviewed an elderly Monroe man about it.

Of course it would seem an easy crime to solve. Plenty of eyewitness. The driver of the car. The dead bodies. Even without the marvels of current crime-solving technology, it seems like a clear and obvious case to make.

To add to the chances of catching the culprits, President Harry Truman demanded justice. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation got involved, and so did the FBI.

But no one has ever faced a trial in the Moore’s Ford Lynching.

The case remains unsolved, and it’s a potent symbol of how, in an era when lynching was common, we’ve ignored and refused to fully acknowledge that troubling chapter of our history.

All of this has become more relevant lately.

The Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based organization that advocates for people unfairly charged with or convicted of crimes, recently issued an in-depth report about lynchings.

The study, “Lynching in America,” catalogs the terrorism targeting 3,959 African Americans in 12 southern states from 1877 to 1950.

According to the report, Georgia was the site of more lynchings than any other state, 586. Among the report’s findings:

  • More lynchings took place in these 12 states than previously reported by other studies, and it identified as many as 700 more.
  • Early (24) and Brooks (21) counties in south Georgia had the highest number of lynchings among the state's counties. There were three in Clayton, one in Cobb, five in DeKalb, 11 in Fulton and three in Gwinnett.
  • Many victims were killed without being accused of any crime, despite some blaming lynching on a kind of "frontier justice." Often a minor social transgression, such as refusing to step off the sidewalk, doomed them.
  • Lynchings played an important role in the migration of blacks to the North.

The report also highlights “an astonishing absence of any effort to acknowledge, discuss or address lynchings.” Instead, many communities display monuments to the Civil War and the Confederacy.

Of course the Moore’s Ford lynching is but one of the stories, many of them the untold and unsolved murders of terrorized black citizens.

“The history of terror lynching complicates contemporary issues of race, punishment, crime and justice,” the report says. It also says the death penalty has its roots in lynching in southern states.

“That the death penalty’s roots are sunk deep in the legacy of lynching is evidenced by the fact that public executions to mollify the mob continued after the practice was legally banned,” the report says.

Bryan Stevenson, executive director of EJI, argues that all the lynching stories should be told.

“We cannot heal the deep wounds inflicted during the era of racial terrorism until we tell the truth about it,” he said in a statement released with the report.

Stevenson has said he plans to lead an effort to place historic markers at the sites of lynchings around the South.

There’s already a marker for the Moore’s Ford Bridge lynching. You’ll find it on U.S. 78 at the intersection of Locklin Road in Walton County, about two-and-a-half miles from the site of the crime.

But it will take 585 more markers for Georgia to acknowledge this abhorrent part of our history.