July 25, 1946: The Moore’s Ford Lynching occured.
The 1946 Georgia lynching was a quadruple killing that took place in the northern part of the U.S. state of Georgia in the summer of 1946. Done on a bridge in Walton and Oconee counties between Monroe and Watkinsville, the case attracted national attention. While the FBI investigated in 1946, it was unable to prosecute. New publicity in the 1990s led to a new investigation, but the case has not been solved.
July 25, 1946, two young African American married couples were shot and killed near the Moore’s Ford Bridge spanning theApalachee River, 60 miles east of Atlanta. George W. Dorsey (born November 1917) a veteran of World War II, had been back in the United States less than nine months after serving nearly five years in the Pacific War. He was with his wife Mae Murray Dorsey (born September 20, 1922), Roger Malcolm (born March 22, 1922) and his wife Dorothy Malcolm (born July 25, 1926), who was 7 months pregnant. They were accosted by a mob of white men as they headed to their home.
J. Loy Harrison, a Caucasian man, employed the two young couples as sharecroppers on his farm. Malcolm had been jailed for having stabbed Barnette Hester, a Caucasian man, eleven days prior. Harrison drove Dorothy Malcolm and the Dorseys to Monroe and personally posted the $600 bail for Roger Malcolm to be freed on bail. Malcolm’s victim was still hospitalized. As Harrison drove the two couples from the jail back to the farm, at 5:30 p.m. the car was stopped at the bridge by an armed gang numbering between 15 and 20 people.
According to Loy Harrison:
“A big man who was dressed mighty proud in a double-breasted brown suit was giving the orders. He pointed to Roger and said, ‘We want that nigger.’ Then he pointed to George Dorsey, my nigger, and said, ‘We want you, too, Charlie.’ I said, ‘His name ain’t Charlie, he’s George.’ Someone said ‘Keep your damned big mouth shut. This ain’t your party.”
Silently Harrison watched. One of the women identified an assailant, and the mob took the women to a big oak tree and tied them beside their husbands. The mob fired three point-blank volleys. The coroner’s estimate counted sixty shots fired at close range.
The killings captured national attention and outrage. PresidentHarry Truman created the President’s Commission on Civil Rights. His administration introduced anti-lynching legislation in Congress, but was unable to get it passed against the opposition of the southern Democratic bloc; nonetheless, new energy flowed to the African-American Civil Rights Movement.
Georgia Governor Ellis Arnall offered a reward of $10,000 for information, to no avail. After the FBI interviewed nearly 3000 people in their six-month investigation, they issued 100 subpoenas. The investigation received little cooperation, no one confessed, and perpetrators were offered alibis for their whereabouts.
No one was indicted for the crime and the FBI found little physical evidence.
After hearing nearly three weeks of testimony, the grand jury was “unable to establish the identity of any persons guilty of violating the civil rights statute of the United States.”
No one was brought to trial for the crime.
In 1992, Clinton Adams told the FBI that he had been a witness to the murders at Moore’s Ford Bridge. Only ten years old when he saw the lynching, Adams had been on the run for 45 years, fearing for his life. After extensive research resulting in her book on the case, Fire in a Canebrake (2003), reporter Laura Wexler contended Adams had “holes in his story.”
In 1992, The Atlanta Constitution told Adams’ story and the history of the unsolved lynching. Five years later, the Oconee Enterprise,Walton Tribune, and the Athens Daily News also published accounts. With the renewed publicity, some people in the community decided to act.
In 2001 then-Gov. Roy Barnes officially reopened investigation into the case with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. By 2006, the FBI had reentered the case.
In June 2008, as part of the continuing investigation, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and FBI searched an area at a farm home in Walton County near Gratis and collected material they believed related to the lynching.
In 1997 Georgia citizens established the biracial Moore’s Ford Memorial Committee to commemorate the lynching and work for racial reconciliation. They have conducted a number of activities, including restoration of cemeteries where the victims were buried, erecting tombstones at the previously unmarked graves, conducting education about the events, and setting up scholarships in the names of those who died.
In 1998 they held a biracial memorial service on the anniversary of the attack.They worked with the Georgia Historical Society to ensure a state historical marker was placed near the site. It was erected on U.S. Highway 78 in 1999, on the fifty-third anniversary of the incident. The marker, 2.4 miles to the west, identifies the site as the location of the last unsolved mass lynching in America. Additionally, it recognizes the 1998 memorial service. It is believed to be the first highway marker to recognize a lynching.
Also in 1999, the Memorial Committee arranged for a military memorial service to honor George Dorsey on the anniversary of the lynching.
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