Activists Seek Action in '46 Lynching

New York Times/March 31, 2005

Monroe, Ga. -- The crude, black "KKK" spray-painted on the underside of a newer bridge over the Apalachee River is the only suggestion of the lynchings that took place here nearly 59 years ago.

In 1946, a white mob pulled four black sharecroppers from a car near the river's banks, dragged them down a wagon trail by the old Moore's Ford Bridge and shot them to death.

Now, dozens of politicians, activists and relatives of the victims are pressing a local prosecutor to use the FBI's original investigation to seek indictments against the few surviving suspects in the deaths of Roger and Dorothy Malcom and George and Mae Murray Dorsey.

"This," declared state Rep. Tyrone Brooks of Atlanta, "was the most heinous collective crime ever perpetuated against African-Americans in this state."

Brooks is an honorary member of what has come to be known as the Moore's Ford Memorial Committee, which first came together in 1997 simply to commemorate the two slain couples.

This weekend, the group is hoping to gather support with two events: a rally Friday night at the courthouse and a march -- led by Brooks -- across the bridge Saturday.

So far, though, the committee's prosecutorial efforts -- bolstered by several civil rights cases reopened in recent years -- have not influenced District Attorney Ken Wynne, who says he will not seek indictments unless new evidence is presented. He points to a 2001 investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that did not unearth any new evidence. GBI officials, however, say they consider the case open.

Brooks' response to Wynne's stance is pointed.

"We don't need any more investigations. The evidence is there," Brooks said. "They should be charged and let a jury decide their fate."

According to the FBI report, Roger Malcom, 24, had stabbed Barnette Hester, a white farmer, in the chest with a pocket knife 11 days before the lynchings. Malcom, witnesses told authorities, suspected Hester was sleeping with his wife, Dorothy.

Monroe police Chief Ben Dickerson told the FBI that a mob of white men gathered days later in the woods south of town to figure out how "to get Roger out of jail," presumably to lynch him for the attack on Hester.

On July 25, 1946, white farmer Loy Harrison paid $600 to bail Malcom out of jail in exchange for Malcom working in his 1,000-acre farm. Harrison also took along Dorothy Malcom and the Dorseys.

Crossing the Moore's Ford Bridge on the way to his farm, Harrison's car was "hijacked" by the mob. Harrison, who was spared, told the FBI he didn't recognize any of the men. The FBI report noted Harrison was a former Ku Klux Klansman and well-known bootlegger.

President Truman marshaled the FBI to Monroe, about 40 miles east of Atlanta. But according to officials, suspects and witnesses resented being questioned. Georgia State Patrol Maj. William Spence was quoted as saying: "The best people in town won't talk."

A September 1946 article in The New Republic magazine pointed out several holes in the witnesses' stories and questioned the investigation's thoroughness: Why was bail set so low for Roger Malcom? Why did Harrison bail out Malcom? Why did Harrison take a lonely side road to his farm rather than the paved highway?

In its 500-page synopsis of the case, the FBI said some of the 55 suspects were named simply for being relatives, friends or neighbors of Hester. Others were listed as suspects because they could not explain their whereabouts on the day of the lynching.

At least two of the named suspects are still alive. Repeated telephone messages left by The Associated Press at their homes went unreturned.

Few leads have developed over the years, and committee members have long complained about local residents' reticence toward the case. Indeed, many in the community are not eager to see the case revisited.

An example is an elderly woman on the town's Broad Street.

"Leave those poor people alone," said the woman, who declined to give her name. "They're all dead."

The committee recently invited the victims' relatives to the lynching site. It was the first visit for Roger Malcom's aunt Rosa Ingram, 87.

"I feel awful lonesome," she said stoically. "You know it's always sad when you lose your folks."

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