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.
Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson reads a 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.
A Poem for Joseph McCoy
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
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
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
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
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 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
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.
In the News
The Anniversary of the Lynching of Joseph McCoy.
Opinion piece by Audrey Davis, Director, Alexandria Black History Museum
The Alexandria Gazette Packet , April 23-29, 2020, page six
Joseph McCoy was lynched by a mob in 1897. At a
virtual remembrance, officials vowed not to forget.
Retropolis, By Michael E. Ruane
The Washington Post, April 24, 2020, page B4
Social Justice Reading list
In honor of Joseph McCoy, City of Alexandria Library staff have curated a list of social justice reading for adults and for youth. We hope you will find these selections educational, and moving. These titles - both fiction and nonfiction - provide context for discussion of race, class, violence and American society.
- A Very Large Expanse of Sea - Tahereh Mafi
- All American Boys - Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
- All-American Muslim Girl - Nadine Jolie Courtney
- Anger is a Gift - Mark Oshiro
- Dear Martin - Nic Stone
- Here to Stay - Sara Farizan
- How I Resist - Maureen Johnson
- March Series - John Lewis
- Out of Darkness - Ashley Hope Perez
- Piecing Me Together - Renee Watson
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning - Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi.
- Slay - Brittney Morris
- The Good Braider - Terry Farish
- The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas
- The Lines We Cross - Randa Abdel-Fattah
- The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights - Steve Sheinkin
- Between the World and Me - Ta'Nehesi Coates
- Blackballed: The Black Vote and US Democracy - Darryl Pinckney
- Ebony & Ivory: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America's Universities - Craig Wilder
- Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower - Brittney Cooper
- For White Folks Who Teach In the 'Hood…And the Rest of Y'all, Too - Christopher Emdin
- How To Be An Antiracist - Ibram X. Kendi
- Men We Reaped - Jessmyn Ward
- Of Poetry & Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin - Philip Cushway
- Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America - Melissa Harris-Perry
- So You Want To Talk About Race - Ijeoma Oluo
- Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America - Ibram X. Kendi
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness - Michelle Alexander
- We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy - Ta'Nehesi Coates
- When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir Patrisse Khan - Cullors & Asha Bandele
- White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Race Robin - DiAngelo
- RES (Racial and Ethnic Socialization): Developed by the American Psychological Association, this resource focuses on building and reinforcing positive outcomes in African American children. The resources, directed towards parents, caregivers, and educators of African American children and youth (ages 5-18) may prove helpful in the museum education context.
- Engaging my Child: Towards the bottom of the parent resource page, there is a break-down of discussing race and ethnicity by the age of child.
- EmbraceRace: This non-profit describes itself as “a multiracial community of parents, teachers, experts, and other caring adults who support each other to meet the challenges that race poses to our children, families, and communities.” Scroll the webinars to listen to or read the transcripts of them—don’t miss “How Children Learn about Race” and “How to Address Racial Injustice with Young Children” in this section. Tips and recommendations related to book selection are found throughout the site.
- Teaching for Change: Building Social Justice Starting in the Classroom has a “Teaching Resources” section of its website that includes everything from overarching themes like Anti-Bias Education to specific topics like Civil Rights. The News section is incredibly helpful in keeping up with the latest happening in and adjacent to the field. The thought-piece on “When and How to Talk with Young Children about Enslavement: Discussion Questions for Educators” within News provides good questions for conversation and consideration
- Teaching Tolerance: “Let’s Talk: Discussing Race, Racism and Other Difficult Topics with Students” is one of Teaching Tolerance’s many helpful resources. The pamphlet focuses on facilitating difficult dialogues with student groups. It includes a self-reflection section, facilitation techniques, and suggestions for adjusting strategies for K-5 students.
- Teaching Tolerance blog post: This blog post on Teaching Tolerance’s website includes a helpful quick reference of do’s and don’ts for teaching slavery to students.
- DC Area Educators 4 Social Justice: As we seek to connect with and meaningfully contribute to what the community is already doing, this is a great network and resource for Alexandria museum educators to be a part of.
- Talk with Children about Slavery: This resource was developed by a mom and activist who wanted to help others talk to their kids about race, social justice, and other crucial issues. Her blog links to a lot of other resources beyond her own.
- Smithsonian Magazine, Indigenous Peoples’ Day: A useful article with links to additional resources as we rethink programming around what was Columbus Day and is now recognized as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Alexandria.
- Understanding Race: The American Anthropological Association Race Project website features a family guide for discussing race with children.
Digital Guest Book
As part of this community reflection, share your thoughts, artwork, or creative writing after viewing the information on this In Memoriam page. Email your work to firstname.lastname@example.org. Selections will be posted on this web page.
Response to Joseph McCoy’s Lynching
The dictionary defines lynching as “putting to death by mob action, usually a hanging without legal authority.” The Equal Justice Initiative defines “lynching as a violent and public event that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials.” I start with the definition of lynching to summarize the emotions that irrupted in my heart and soul while participating in the memorial journey of the lynching of Joseph McCoy. After walking this commemorative journey (on February 23, 2020, with Alexandria Community Remembrance Project committee members), I was struck by the overwhelming terror my ancestors experienced. I was also struck by the continuing struggles of the bonds of systemic racism that slavery and other forms of social oppression and controls are built. I felt empathy for my ancestors and saddens for African American people during this journey. I felt disheartened because these racist practices are built into the fibers of America, the America that we as African Americans live in today.
The one thing that resonated with me was how helpless Joseph McCoy, his relatives, and the other African Americans must have felt during that period.
This experience triggered emotions of Black people’s pain and suffering. After the walk, we listened to Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday, which was a fitting end to an emotional day.
Arnecia Moody, LCSW-C, LCSW, LICSW
James R. Morgan III