In Memoriam 2020: Joseph McCoy April 23, 1897
In Memoriam: Joseph McCoy April 23, 1897
The April 23, 2020 City-wide remembrance planned in memory of Joseph McCoy, who was lynched in Alexandria on this day in 1897, has been moved to this In Memoriam page.
The City of Alexandria is committed to the accurate dissemination of its history. The murder of Joseph McCoy is recognized as a terrible chapter in Alexandria’s past. To fight injustice and to keep the memory of Alexandria’s lynching victims alive, you are invited to participate in the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project. As part of this community reflection, please share your thoughts, artwork, or creative writing after viewing the information on this In Memoriam page. Email your work to HistoricAlexandria@alexandriava.gov. Selections will be posted below in the digital guestbook.
The Lynching of Joseph H McCoy: A Narrative
On the evening of April 22, 1897, 19-year-old Alexandrian Joseph McCoy was arrested without a warrant, dragged from his cell by a mob, and brutally lynched at the southeast corner of Cameron and Lee Streets. The full account of this hate crime was methodically researched by the 13-member Research Committee of the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project.
Joseph McCoy: A Tragic Death and its Impact
An op ed piece by Audrey P. Davis, Director, Alexandria Black History Museum, April 23, 2020
On August 8, 2019, I wrote an editorial to acknowledge the lynching of Benjamin Thomas, which occurred on that date in 1899. Today, I write on the anniversary of the lynching of Joseph McCoy. He was killed on April 23, 1897.
Both terrible events happened near Market Square and City Hall, then the location of Alexandria’s police station. Both McCoy and Thomas were brutally murdered by mobs, just steps from the agency that should have provided them protection. Their bodies were mutilated, and they were denied the right to a fair trial. Their deaths were among the 100 documented lynchings that occurred in Virginia, 11 of them in Northern Virginia, between 1882 and 1968.
Last year, I also wrote about the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project. This project launched Alexandria’s formal collaboration with the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), which interprets America’s history of racial terror lynchings as a tool to dominate and intimidate. The project is inspired by EJI’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. The memorial includes over 800 steel monuments, or pillars, one for each city or county in the United States where a lynching took place, with the names of the lynching victims engraved on the pillars. As a community, Alexandria will gather soil at the lynching site for display at EJI’s Legacy Museum and arrange for markers in Alexandria at the lynching sites. One of the most important goals is bringing the Alexandria pillar (with both McCoy and Thomas’ names) from Alabama to Alexandria for placement in a prominent public location.
Toward that end, seven committees have developed out of the Community Remembrance Project: Public Outreach; Education & Programming; Marketing; Marker and Soil Collection; Research; Fundraising; and Public Pilgrimage to EJI. Each committee’s mission is to educate the public and make the installation of the pillar a reality.
In the last year, much has happened. The City began with a September 2019 community meeting and a keynote speech by Kiara Boone from the Equal Justice Initiative. Her mandate from EJI -- to own and learn from our ugly history -- has set the tone for the project. More than 300 people attended this meeting, including state and City officials, faith leaders, and community organization representatives.
Subsequently, we have held quarterly community meetings featuring invited speakers such as Krystyn R. Moon and Spencer Crew. Dr. Moon is a Professor of History and the Director of American Studies at the University of Mary Washington. Dr. Crew is the interim director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Dr. Moon spoke on the struggles of Alexandria’s African American community to gain equality, while Dr. Crew shared the social justice work being done by the NMAAHC and how social justice ethics have guided his career in museums.
This April, during the dark days of a pandemic, our social justice work moves forward. The City had planned a large community gathering at the McCoy lynching site, located at the corner of Lee and Cameron Streets, on April 23. Due to recent guidelines from the CDC, we have changed the format of this gathering, and we are using other ways to tell McCoy’s story and to educate the public about lynching.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shed a spotlight on inequalities that still threaten our nation and culture and question our humanity. Is access to health care equal? Are educational and career paths available to all? While many can shelter in place with relative ease, what of those who cannot?
Alexandria’s Community Remembrance Project aims to make Alexandria a stronger community. We must face the ugliness of our past and the horrors inflicted on those with no recourse. By doing this, we stand against hate, inequality and work to embrace the humanity of everyone in Alexandria and beyond. We apologize for past injustice and use restorative justice to strengthen our ties.
Today, remember Joseph McCoy. Let his murder be more than a horrible footnote in Alexandria’s history and an example of vigilante justice. Join the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project and help make Alexandria the most inclusive and welcoming of cities. Our success is in these endeavors is the legacy of Joseph McCoy and Benjamin Thomas.