In Memoriam 2021: Joseph McCoy April 23, 1897

The April 23, 2021 remembrance of Joseph McCoy, who was lynched in Alexandria on this day in 1897, includes this In-Memoriam page.

Page updated on Apr 18, 2021 at 11:47 AM

In Memoriam 2021: Joseph McCoy April 23, 1897

The April 23, 2021 remembrance of Joseph McCoy, who was lynched in Alexandria on this day in 1897, includes this In Memoriam page. You can also view the 2020 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

Free Lecture: A White Historian Confronts Lynching
A lecture with historian Susan Strasser and Poet Marcia Cole
Saturday, April 24 at 1 p.m.   Register here'
Please note this events will not be recorded. 

This lecture is one of a series of four free lectures 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 New Historic Marker

McCoy 2021 Historic MarkerBelow is the text for the new historic marker was 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.

2021 Proclamation

Read the proclamation in honor of lynching victim Joseph McCoy who was murdered on April 23, 1897. This Proclamation acknowledges both of Alexandria ‘s lynching victims and is a formal apology from The City of Alexandria for past racial injustice. 

2021 Proclamation in honor of Joseph McCoy

A Poem for Joseph McCoy

© KaNikki Jakarta, Poet Laureate of Alexandria, Virginia April 17, 2020  



Black Boy
Born to Ann and Samuel as Reconstruction ended
And the era of Jim Crow started
Left many family members broken hearted 
Before his life as a man officially began
A sorrowful trend amongst black families
Tugging on heart strings to rejoice or weep
when black boys are birthed
A blessing and a curse on a family tree
Because we’re never sure if someone will kill you
And write you down in history untrue
After accusing you of crimes like 
Assaulting someone white
Talking back to someone white
Looking at someone white
Whistling at someone white
Despite putting up a fight or screaming a denial
You might get a trial
But it will be unjust 
Although you initially denied it all
I think you thought it was best to confess…
This is not a history that belongs to you alone
And if you would have grown
Just a bit older
You may have cried on someone’s shoulder 
Two years later over another black boy named Benjamin Thompson 
Who shares this story too
I wish I could talk to you
I would ask you what really took place
I wish I could look upon your face 
to hear your story
The way that you would have it told
The way that circumstances would unfold
On April 23, 1897
Truth is, I want to pen your story
But the newspapers don’t show
What happened all of those years ago
But this is what I know…
You were born Joseph McCoy
You had four siblings and you were the youngest boy
And before you were ever thought to be
Your grandmother Cecilia McCoy was born free
More than a half century
Before you were lynched 
Hanged from a lamppost and shot multiple times
No family members would claim your body
And no one was ever charged with a crime
But, this is not the part of your story that I would want to tell
I don’t want to recap the horrible night a mob of 500 retrieved you from jail
I don’t want to write about your how your funeral was held 
I would like to highlight 
That despite the fact you didn’t celebrate your 21st birthday
123 Years Later
You are celebrated
You are remembered 
A legend, a light
Shining bright 
even in your absence 
An ancestor whose story far surpassed the details of your death
A part of history that will let in peace be the way you rest
No one remembers the names of the people who took your life
They don’t get glory for spreading bitterness and strife
But you
Joseph McCoy
A black boy
Born to Ann and Samuel as Reconstruction ended
And the era of Jim Crow started
Whose death left many family members broken hearted 
Before his life as a man officially began
A horrific trend 
In black history
Another tragedy
But your history will be one remembered alongside 
Others who were also lynched, shot, or hanged
But we will remember your name
Because your history is within my pen now
Within my words now
A black writer
Who decided to write about you in a positive way
But still today
We are left with the question 
Who could you have grown to be? 
If they would not have killed you

KaNikki Jakarta, Poet Laureate of Alexandria, Virginia

2020 -- A Prayer in honor of Joseph McCoy

In 1897, Rev. William Gaines of Robert’s Chapel, now known as Roberts United Methodist Memorial Church, led the funeral service for Joseph McCoy. In this video, the church’s current pastor, James Daniely, offers remarks and lifts a prayer as if he had been conducting McCoy’s funeral. The clip reflects the religious beliefs of McCoy and his family. The City of Alexandria respects all faiths and is an inclusive community. This video clip is not an endorsement of any one faith. 

Biography of Joseph McCoy

Biography of Joseph McCoy (with footnotes)

Murdered in 1897, teenager Joseph McCoy lived his entire life in Alexandria. He was born as Reconstruction ended and the era of Jim Crow began. He grew up in The Bottoms neighborhood on South Alfred Street among his extended family of parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles.

The McCoys had deep roots here. More than a half a century before Alexandria’s citizens lynched Joseph McCoy, his grandmother Cecilia McCoy was born a free woman of color in the city. She raised her four children, Ann, Horatio, Eliza and John, while working as a washerwoman.

Ann, the oldest, entered the working world before her fourteenth birthday. That meant leaving her mother and little brothers and sister to work in the household of Benoni Wheat on Prince Street.

By the time she was out of her teens, however, Ann and her new husband Samuel Chase had a home together and began raising the next generation of Alexandrians. They were Harriet, Charles, Rachel, Samuel Jr, and eventually little Joseph, the baby of the family.

When Ann died soon after Joseph’s birth, Cecilia McCoy took the children into her house, just down the block from their father. Joseph’s Aunt Harriet attended school right into her teen years. However, the other children went to work as soon as they were able, working as domestic servants or performing manual labor, as Joseph did for the Lacy family until April 22, 1897, when Richard Lacy accused him of attacking three of the Lacy children.

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.

The Lynching of Joseph H. McCoy, April 23, 1897

Map of the events of April 23

The Lynching of Joseph H. McCoy (Map)

An op ed piece

An op ed piece by Audrey P. Davis, Director, Alexandria Black History Museum, April 23, 2021

In the News

Statements by State and Local Officials and Staff

Social Justice Reading list

Here are some additions to the 2021 Social Justice Reading List that was provided by the City of Alexandria Library staff. We hope you will find these additional selections educational, and moving. These titles - both fiction and nonfiction - provide context for discussion of race, class, violence and American society.

Readings for Adults
  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents – Isabel Wilkerson
  • Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen – Jose Vargas
  • Don’t Call us Dead – Danez Smith
  • Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights – Gretchen Sullivan
  • Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 – Ibram X. Kendi
  • Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot – Mikki Kendall
  • In the Country We Love: My Family Divided – Diane Guerrero
  • Let the People See: The Story of Emmett Till – Elliott J. Gorn
  • Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present – Harriet A. Washington
  • Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning – Cathy Park Hong
  • Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America – Candacy A. Taylor
  • Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination – Toni Morison
  • Soul City: Race, Equality, and the Lost Dream of an American Utopia – Thomas Healey
  • The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person – Frederick Joseph
  • The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How our Government Segregated America – Richard Rothstein
  • The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race – Jessmyn Ward
  • Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man – Emmanuel Acho
  • Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist – Francesca Ramsey
  • White Fright: The Sexual Panic at the Heart of American’s Racist History – Jane Elizabeth Dailey
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • You Can't Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain – Phoebe Robinson
  • You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacy: Crazy Stories About Racism – Amber Ruffin
Readings for Teens
Young Adult Fiction
  • Dear Justyce – Nic Stone
  • How it Went Down – Kekla Magooon
  • I'm Not Dying with You Tonight – Kimberly Jones
  • Internment – Samira Ahmed
  • Light it Up – Kela Magoon
  • Monster – Walter Dean Myers
  • Punching the Air – Ibi Zoboi
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian – Sherman Alexie
  • This is My America – Kim Johnson
  • Tyler Johnson Was Here – Jay Coles

Young Adult Non-Fiction
  • All Boys Aren't Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto – George M. Johnson
  • Freedom Summer for Young People: The Violent Season that Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy – Bruce Watson
  • Separate No More: The Long Road to Brown v. Board of Education – Lawrence Goldstone
  • This Book is Anti-Racist – Tiffany Jewel
  • We Are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide – Carol Anderson
Readings for Children
Children’s Picture books
  • A Place inside Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart – Zetta Elliott
  • Antiracist Baby – Ibram X. Kendi
  • Cool Cuts – Mechal Renee Roe
  • Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut – Derrick Barnes
  • Eyes that Kiss in the Corners – Joanna Ho
  • I am Brown – Ashok Banker
  • Overground Railroad – Lesa Cline-Ransome
  • We are Water Protectors – Carole Lindstrom

Children’s Fiction
  • Front Desk – Kelly Yang

Children’s Non-fiction
  • A Ride to Remember – Sharon Langley, Amy Nathan
  • Be the Change: The Future is in Your Hands – Eunice Moyle
  • Black Girl Magic: A Poem – Mahogany L. Browne
  • Black Women Who Dared – Naomi M. Moyer
  • Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship – Irene Latham
  • Changing the Equation: 50+ Black Women in STEM – Tony BoldenLet It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters – Andrea Davis Pinkney
  • Let’s Talk About Race – Julius Lester
  • Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning – Cathy Park Hong
  • The Talk: Conversations about Race, Love & Truth – Wade Hudson
  • The Teachers March: How Selma's Teachers Changed History – Sandra Neil Wallace
  • Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre – Carole Boston Weatherford
  • Woke: A Young Poet's Call to Justice – Mahogany L. Browne