In Memoriam 2021: Joseph McCoy April 23, 1897
In Memoriam: Joseph McCoy April 23, 1897
The City of Alexandria’s Community Remembrance Project invites Alexandrians to join in the remembrance of Joseph McCoy, a black teenage resident who was killed by a lynch mob at the corner of Lee and Cameron Streets in 1897. This weekend, learn more about Joseph McCoy, pay your respects at the lynching location, and view the newly installed remembrance marker. City Hall will be illuminated in purple, the color of mourning, throughout the weekend. It is our hope that this April 23, 2021 memorialization will provide belated accountability, reconciliation, honor, and respect for Joseph McCoy.
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.
Friday, April 23 at 8 a.m.
Southeast corner of North Lee and Cameron Streets.
A recording of the remembrance ceremony is posted here.
This lecture is part of the Community Remembrance Project Lecture Series with historian Susan Strasser sponsored by the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project. Susan Strasser is an award-winning historian and a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians. She has been praised by the New Yorker for "retrieving what history discards: The taken-for-granted minutiae of everyday life." A reading list is provided for this event.
Illumination of Alexandria City Hall
City Hall was illuminated in purple, the color of mourning, throughout the weekend.
A New Historic Marker
Below is the text for the new historic marker installed at the site of the lynching, at the southeast corner of Cameron and Lee Streets.
On a lamppost at this corner on April 23, 1897, Black Alexandria teenager Joseph H. McCoy was lynched. McCoy’s white employer, Richard Lacy, alleged that McCoy had sexually assaulted his daughter. Similar accusations were routinely used against Black males to ensure domination and provoke racial terror within the African American community. McCoy was arrested without a warrant and held prisoner at the police station, located at present-day City Hall.
After multiple attacks on the station by hundreds of white men, the mob broke through McCoy’s cell door and dragged him one block to this location. They shot him several times, bludgeoned him with an ax, and hanged him. The Alexandria Gazette reported that “other indignities were heaped upon his quivering remains.” Such historically coded language suggested dismemberment, including castration, that was often inflicted on Black males who were lynched, especially in cases involving a perceived indignity to a white female.
Virginia Governor Charles O’Ferrall launched an investigation into the lynching. He laid blame on Alexandria Mayor Luther Thompson for failing to respond to repeated attacks despite knowing the mob intended to lynch McCoy. No officials or law enforcement officers were held accountable and no members of the white mob were ever arrested for McCoy’s murder. Several Black men, however, were arrested based on rumors of retaliation.
Upon viewing her nephew’s body, McCoy’s aunt declared, “As the people killed him, they will have to bury him.” At the funeral, Rev. William Gaines of Roberts Chapel proclaimed, “I trust that the time will soon come when all people will realize the fact that the same judgment which they measure to others will be measured to them at the bar of God.”
Joseph H. McCoy was buried in a pauper’s grave at Penny Hill Cemetery.
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 in 2020 by the 13-member Research Committee of the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project.