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Lynching reenactment spurs demand for justice

Published Aug 3, 2007 8:24 PM

Sixty-one years have passed since two African-American couples died here at the hands of a racist mob. The July 25 re-enactment of these events in this rural Georgia county and its promise of future struggle show that where there has been no justice, there will be no peace.

From left, State Senator Tyrone Brooks
and Robert Howard explain progress
investigating 1946 murders.
Photo : Judy Conder

It is common, especially here in the South, to read a newspaper article or see a report on television of Civil War buffs re-enacting one of the bloody battles that occurred between Union and Confederate forces. A point of pride of the “enactors” is to portray the events with historical accuracy down to the smallest detail.

A reenactment of a different sort took place at Moore’s Ford Bridge at the Walton-Oconee county line near Monroe, Ga., on July 25.

These re-enactors also were careful to stay true to the events that took place on this spot 61 years ago in 1946. They portrayed the bloody horror of a Ku Klux Klan killing of two African-American couples, Roger Malcolm and Dorothy Malcolm, and George Dorsey and Mae Murray Dorsey, before a crowd of several hundred local residents and others from around the state who gathered to demand justice now.

The facts of what has come to be known as the Moore’s Ford Bridge lynching illuminate the pervasive racist violence that sustained Jim Crow segregation for almost 100 years after slavery itself ended.

The two Black couples were sharecroppers in this rural area some 60 miles east of Atlanta. Although slavery was nominally over, the life of most Black people was controlled by a small number of wealthy white families who owned the farm land, ran the banks and businesses, controlled the political offices and court system and often operated as a paramilitary organization known as the KKK.

In mid-July, 1946, Roger Malcolm and a white farmer, Barney Hester, got into an argument. Hester suffered stab wounds and was taken to a hospital. Malcolm was arrested and taken to the jail in Monroe, the county seat of Walton County. The Black community immediately feared for Malcolm’s life. The Hester family ranked among the most powerful and it was unlikely that such an act of defiance would not be met with a harsh response.

The next day, segregationist Gov. Eugene Talmadge running for his third tern as Georgia’s top elected official campaigned in Monroe and delivered a racist tirade, pledging that under his watch, the social status quo of white supremacy would be maintained. He met with the injured man’s brother, George Hester, and is reported to have offered immunity to anyone “taking care of the Negro.”

On July 25, Loy Harrison, the landowner for whom Roger Malcolm and George Dorsey worked, came to the jail and paid the $600 to bail Malcolm out. Accompanying him in his car was Dorothy Malcolm, her brother George Dorsey and his wife, Mae Murray Dorsey.

Allegedly saying he was taking them home, Harrison took a circuitous route, arriving at the isolated Moore’s Ford Bridge at about 6 p.m. As the car approached, some two dozen shotgun-carrying white men surrounded the vehicle, first dragging out Roger Malcolm. George Dorsey, a recently returned WWII veteran, tried to help him. Both men were quickly beaten to the ground.

Seated in the back seat, the two women screamed at the lynch mob not to hurt their husbands. When Dorothy Malcolm recognized one of the men, the racists forcibly removed the women and broke their arms as they resisted.

Dragged down an embankment along the Apalachee River, all four were shot, their bodies riddled by hundreds of bullets. Dorothy Malcolm was seven months pregnant. One of the killers cut the fetus out of her womb and tossed it next to her corpse.

Loy Harrison wasn’t hurt. A reputed Klansman himself, he later claimed not to have recognized anyone even though none of them had their faces covered.

The brazen murders made national headlines. President Harry Truman took the rare step of sending FBI agents to Monroe.

The 500-page synopsis of the federal investigation named some 55 possible suspects. Yet no one was ever charged in the cold-blooded murders of Roger Malcolm, Dorothy Malcolm, George Dorsey and Mae Murray Dorsey.

In 1968, local activist Robert Howard began researching the case. Tyrone Brooks, now a Georgia state senator but then a 20-year-old civil rights worker, was sent to Monroe by Martin Luther King Jr. Brooks often recalls the impact of seeing the pictures of the brutally violated bodies taken by the undertaker who prepared them for their burials.

For Howard, this racist crime confirms the complicity of politicians, police agencies, the legal system and the Ku Klux Klan, all of whom were able to operate with impunity not just in 1946 but in the many decades since.

Together, Howard and Brooks have worked unceasingly to get the case reopened. Although it is most likely that many of those who plotted this lynching and pulled the triggers that day in 1946 are dead, a few of those named in the FBI investigation still live in Walton County, and the re-enacted drama still lacks its ending.