In Memoriam 2023: Benjamin Thomas August 8, 1899
In Memoriam: Benjamin Thomas August 8, 1899
On August 8, 1899, a lynch mob hunted down, tortured, and killed 16-year-old Benjamin Thomas, an African American boy and native Alexandrian. Thomas was arrested on Monday, August 7, 1899, for allegedly assaulting a white girl, but this was never proven. That night, Black community leaders warned police and the mayor that another lynching might occur, similar to the lynching of Joseph McCoy two years earlier on April 23, 1897. When the authorities refused their entreaties, the African American Alexandrians tried to protect Thomas themselves, standing guard near where he was being held. The police arrested them, and the next morning, they were, tried, fined and sent to the chain gang. The next night, somewhere between 500 and 2000 Alexandrians took Benjamin Thomas from the city jail on St. Asaph Street, dragged him over cobblestones for half-a-mile to the corner of King and Fairfax Streets where they hanged and shot the young man.
Read the July ACRP Newsletter to find out how the lynching of Benjamin Thomas was linked to slavery.
The Remembrance Ceremony
The Remembrance Ceremony took place on Tuesday August 8 at 6 - 7:30 p.m.
Participants were invited to join us at 6 p.m. in front of 401 N. St. Asaph Street for the unveiling of a new historic marker that tells the story of Benjamin Thomas along with a brief history of the jail that was located on the site from 1827-1967. Participants were then invited to solemnly walk the half-mile trail the lynch mob took down St. Asaph Street to King Street and then to the intersection with Fairfax Street. Upon arriving at the site of the lynching of Benjamin Thomas we held a wreath-laying ceremony.
Illumination of City Hall and the Lamp Post
City Hall and the Lamp Post where Benjamin Thomas was lynched will be bathed in purple light, the color of mourning, beginning Aug. 4 and running through the morning of Aug. 9. The George Washington Masonic Memorial, which can be seen from many areas in Alexandria, will also don a purple hue in memory of Benjamin Thomas.
The Lynching of Benjamin Thomas: A Narrative
Around midnight on August 8,1899, a 16-year-old African American teenager named Benjamin Thomas was lynched in Alexandria, Virginia. A white terror mob comprised of Alexandria citizens attacked the city jail on St. Asaph Street, and Benjamin Thomas was dragged half a mile to the southwest corner of King and Fairfax streets, opposite Market Square. The full account of this hate crime was methodically researched by the 13-member Research Committee of the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project.
In the News
‘Steeped in Racial Oppression’ in Alexandria: Ceremony unveils marker in honor of lynching victim Benjamin Thomas. Jeanne Theismann, Alexandria Gazette Packet, August 10, 2023
Alexandria Community Remembrance Project (ACRP)
ACRP is a city-wide initiative dedicated to helping Alexandria understand its history of racial terror hate crimes. ACRP conducts research, education, programs, and events that remember Joseph McCoy and Benjamin Thomas and explores the long-term impacts upon Alexandria’s African American community. Working with the Equal Justice Initiative Remembrance Project, ACRP will receive a steel pillar that memorializes McCoy and Thomas and with it will create a permanent space for remembrance in Alexandria City. The work of ACRP is an effort to establish a welcoming community bound by equity and inclusion for all people.
Benjamin Thomas and Joseph McCoy are the only two documented Alexandria lynchings so far. McCoy was lynched on April 23, 1897. This year is the 125th anniversary of that event. It was commemorated on that date.