The Equal Justice Initiative’s Community Remembrance Project: Lynchings in Alexandria

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama includes over 800 steel monuments, one for each county in the United States where a racial terror lynching took place. Their Community Remembrance Project invites jurisdictions to claim and install a copy of their monument. The City of Alexandria's monument is planned to be claimed and brought to the City in 2019.

Page updated on Jun 5, 2019 at 10:30 AM

Lynchings in Alexandria

Illustration of a lynching, Alexandria Gazette April 23, 1897Between 1882 and 1968, 100 Virginians, including at least 11 in Northern Virginia, were lynched. The lynchings were among 4,743 reported nationwide during the same period. Lynching was never a federal offense.

In Alexandria, there is documentation of the lynching of two individuals:

  • April 23, 1897: Joseph McCoy, lynched on a lamppost at Lee and Cameron Streets (illustration from the Alexandria Gazette)
  • August 8, 1899: Benjamin Thomas, lynched on a lamppost at Fairfax Street near King Street.

If you are a descendant of one of these men, or have more information about them, please contact the Black History Museum.

The Equal Justice Initiative

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is a private, nonprofit organization that challenges poverty and racial injustice, advocates for equal treatment in the criminal justice system, and creates hope for marginalized communities. EJI opened The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama in 2019.

The Equal Justice Initiative published Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror in 2015, documenting thousands of racial terror lynchings in twelve states. Additional research documented lynchings in states outside the Deep South. EJI is “working to memorialize this history by visiting hundreds of lynching sites, collecting soil, and erecting public markers, in an effort to reshape the cultural landscape with monuments and memorials that more truthfully and accurately reflect our history.”

The EJI Community Remembrance Project

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice includes over 800 steel monuments, or pillars, one for each county in the United States where a racial terror lynching took place, with the names of the lynching victims engraved on the pillars. A field of identical monuments is in a park adjacent to the memorial.  EJI’s Community Remembrance Project invites counties across the country to claim their monuments and install them in the counties they represent. In addition to installing the pillars, EJI encourages participating communities to place a historical marker and to collect soil from the site of the lynchings, to “allow communities to gain perspective and experience that we believe is crucial to managing the monument retrieval process wisely and effectively.”

The Alexandria Pillar

Alexandria PillarOne of the six-foot pillars, shown here, records two documented lynchings in Alexandria. The Office of Historic Alexandria (OHA) is in contact with the EJI and making plans for the City to collect the Alexandria monument in 2019. OHA is working with the City of Alexandria on details as to where and when the monument will be installed.

The process involved in collecting the monument from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice will include:

  • Series of public programs related to the Equal Justice Initiative
  • Public ceremony to collect soil from the location of the two Alexandria lynchings
  • Marker dedication at the site of the lynchings
  • Public pilgrimage to the EJI museum to “claim” the Pillar
  • Ceremony in Alexandria to install the Pillar

To be a part of the Alexandria community process, contact the Office of Historic Alexandria