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Unsolved Murder in Walton County

by Amanda Smith

Coroner W.T. Brown on July 26, 1946, places a sheet over the body of one of the four African Americans lynched. (Laura Wexler)

Walton County, Georgia (Monroe is the county seat) is comprised of 330 square miles of mostly agricultural and wooded areas; only 1% of the county is water. The Alcovy River that flowed under the Moore’s Ford Bridge still flows silently, as if in memory of what happened there on July 25, 1946.

It was a beautiful sunny day in Monroe; a good day for Roger Malcom. Having spent two weeks in the county jail, he was looking forward to being bonded out today by Loy Harrison, a farmer on whose property Roger and his wife Dorothy worked as sharecroppers from sunup ‘til sundown, every day but Sunday. Though he knew he was probably facing some serious jail time once he got to court, he was excited about seeing Dorothy again, who was seven months pregnant with their first child. It was also Dorothy's 20th birthday and Roger wanted to cook her a nice dinner and tell her to relax for the evening.

Harrison had been approached by George and Mae Murray Dorsey with an appeal to bail Roger out of jail. George was Dorothy's brother and was a World War II veteran who had served in the Pacific; he had only been home for 10 months. The Dorseys also worked on Harrison's farm alongside Roger and Dorothy. A bootlegger and member of the KKK, Harrison had initially refused to bail Roger out of jail, but suddenly changed his mind and agreed to help.

"Bring him on up," called a voice from the front of the jailhouse. At once, Roger recognized Mr. Harrison's voice and got up from the metal cot on which he was sitting. As the jailor walked back and unlocked the cell, Roger could hardly contain his excitement -- holding Dorothy in his arms again and some good food in his belly for a change could make any man smile.

When he got to the front of the jailhouse, there stood Dorothy, looking more beautiful than ever. She ran to his arms and Roger squeezed her tight and whispered in her ear, "I shore am glad to see you, honey. I been missin' you somethin' fierce."

"Don't you go out the county, Malcom," said the deputy. "You know you gone do some time for stabbin' Mr. Hester." Of course, he was right; Roger had stabbed local farmer Barney Hester in the chest two weeks before because he believed Hester had done some inappropriate sexual things to Dorothy. Hester also owned the land that Roger and Dorothy lived on. "I ain't goin' nowhere," said Roger, happy to be out for a little while. "I know you ain't," said the deputy with a smile on his face.

When Mr. Harrison had paid the $600 bail for Roger, the three walked out to Mr. Harrison's pickup truck. Immediately, Roger saw that George and Mae were waiting in the back seat. "Surprise!" said Mae. And what a surprise it was! The couples were kin and spent Sundays together when there was no work to do, playing cards or swimming at the creek.

As the three got into the truck, everybody began talking at once and Roger shushed everyone so he could sing 'happy birthday' to Dorothy. Everyone joined in, even Mr. Harrison. When the song was over, Roger reached into the back seat and grabbed Dorothy's hand. "When we gits home, I wants you to put yo feet up and relax," said Roger. "It's yo birthday and I'm cookin' dinner tonight." Dorothy and Mae laughed together. "I don't know if'n I wanna eat yo cookin'", said Dorothy. "You kin burn up a pot a boilin' water!" Everyone in the truck laughed at Dorothy's joke. "I'm takin' ya'll to a friend's farm," said Mr. Harrison. "You'll be safer there ' 'til the court date." "Thank ya, Mr. Harrison," said Roger. "I shore do 'preciate all you doin' for me."

Roger squeezed Dorothy's hand. "Everything's gone be alright, sweetie," he said. Dorothy didn't respond; she wasn't sure if it would. After all, her husband had stabbed a white man while he was drinking; black folks just didn't do that in rural Georgia in the 1940s and get away with it.

After about 5 miles, Harrison turned left on Hog Mountain Road. "What we goin' dis way for?" Roger asked. "We goin' the safe way, Roger," said Harrison. "Don't you worry 'bout it." Two miles later, Harrison turned right on Moore's Ford Road. "Oh, I see -- we jest goin' 'roun the long way," said Roger. A couple of miles later, as the truck approached the Moore's Ford Bridge, Harrison slowed down to barely a crawl. Roger looked into the back seat and smiled at Dorothy but she didn't smile back; she felt that something wasn't right.

Suddenly, a loud "bang" was heard and Roger jerked his head around to peer out the front windshield. The banging escalated and Roger and the other occupants were startled to see that a white man was banging on the hood of the truck. The man pointed at Roger and yelled, "we want dat nigger right dere!" Roger had a sick feeling in his stomach; his wife and unborn child were in the truck and he didn't want Dorothy to witness him getting a beating in her delicate condition. Mae began crying out loud in the back seat and George shushed her. "It gone be alright; don't cry honey," he said. Then the man pointed at George and said, "We want him, too!" George quickly realized that this was a very bad situation; while serving in the Army, he had been in predicaments like this before. He knew it was better to just go along with whatever the white man said. Roger looked at Harrison and said, "What we gone do, Mr. Harrison?" Harrison just looked at Roger and said nothing.

Seemingly out of nowhere, more than two dozen white men with bats, pipes and shotguns appeared and surrounded the truck. The man that had banged on the hood opened Roger's door and grabbed his arm, trying to pull him out of the truck. With both hands, Roger grabbed the inside of the vehicle in an attempt to stay inside, but another man began punching him, causing him to lose his breath and let go. From the opposite side of the truck, two other men were pulling George out of the back seat.

Both women were screaming and crying now and suddenly, Dorothy pointed at one of the men pulling Roger out of the truck and said, "I know who you is!" and Roger knew in one horrible moment what a mistake her outburst could be. "Git them nigger bitches, too," said one of the men standing outside the truck. Dorothy and Mae were forcefully yanked from the back seat and Roger began fighting in earnest, realizing that the situation could be much more than a simple beating of a colored by a white man.

When one of the men began dragging Dorothy away from the truck by the hair, Roger burst free and tried to get to her. A man stepped in front of him and swung his fist with deadly aim and Roger felt his jaw crack. He saw black for a moment and almost passed out from the pain; instead he spit out several teeth, fearing that he would choke on his own blood. Several of the men began punching Roger in the face and stomach while two men were swinging bats, connecting with Roger's back and legs. George was on the ground, taking a beating by at least four men, who were kicking him on every part of his body. His grunts and moans seemed weak compared to the screams of the women.

Dorothy was screaming at the man dragging her by the hair, "You goin' to hell for dis! You goin' straight to hell!" The man dropped her and violently kicked her in the stomach. "Nooooo," she cried, "please don't hurt my baby, please." The man just laughed and continued to kick and punch her. Mae stopped screaming; she just cried and prayed as several men alternately fondled and backhanded her across the face. "Lawd, help us," she cried. "Please, please help us."

After subduing the couples, the men produced a long rope and wrapped it around each of the victim's bodies. Roger, Dorothy, George and Mae were pulled off the road into a small clearing next to the bridge where they were lined up. Bloody and weak, Roger's eyes were swollen shut and he could barely see. He felt a rope being slipped around his neck and at that moment, death loomed in front of him. "Lawd, please jest let Dorothy and Mae and George be alright; it ain't dey fault, I done the stabbin'." George was barely conscious and was being held up by Roger and the ropes that wrapped around his waist; Dorothy and Mae continued to cry and pray for deliverance.

Once the men had the four victims tied securely, they backed away and began taunting the couples. "You niggers is gone die today," yelled several of the men as they cocked their weapons. When they had backed away from the victims, six of the men raised their shotguns and pointed them at the four terrified people. In a volley of dozens of shotgun blasts, the bodies of Roger, Dorothy, George and Mae were riddled with bullets. As they fell to the ground, their last thoughts were, "why?" except for Dorothy, whose unborn child was already dead. "Please don't hurt my baby," she thought as she took her last breath. "Please don't hurt my baby."

When all was quiet, one of the KKK members stepped forward and committed an act even more horrific than those of the past fifteen minutes -- he took a long butcher knife and cut open Dorothy's stomach. With a gloved hand, he reached inside and grabbed her dead child and then threw it on the ground beside its mother. Only now were the murderers done.

The lynching of four young blacks and an unborn child was the last mass lynching in the history of the state of Georgia. Though the FBI interviewed over 3000 people and developed a list of 55 suspects, no one has ever been charged in the case. Loy Harrison insisted that he didn't recognize any of the men involved and for years, no one in the county would talk with investigators. Whites were tight-lipped and blacks, who worked for the whites in the county, feared repercussions if they cooperated with the investigation.

In 1992, Clinton Adams told the FBI that he had been a witness to the murders at Moore's Ford Bridge when he was just 10 years old. After extensive research by Fire in a Canebrake author Laura Wexler, the reporter maintained that Adams had "holes in his story."

In 1997, Georgia citizens established the Moore's Ford Memorial Committee to commemorate the lynching and remember the victims. The cemeteries were restored and the unmarked graves of the victims were replaced with headstones. The group worked with the Georgia Historical Society to erect a state historical marker at the location of the murders, believed to be the first highway marker in the state to recognize a lynching.

In 2001, then Governor Roy Barnes reopened the investigation with the GBI and the FBI reentered the case in 2006. In June of 2008, both law enforcement groups searched an area on a farm in Walton County and collected material they believe to be connected to the case.

Since 2005, GABEO (Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials) has conducted a prayer vigil and reenactment of the lynching each year on the Saturday following the anniversary of the murders. This year’s event (July 28, 2012) marks the 66th anniversary of the lynching and the 8th annual reenactment.

There is a $35,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the killers. If you have information related to the lynching, please contact the GBI at (404) 244-2600 or the FBI at (404) 679-9000. For more information, contact state Representative Tyrone Brooks, President of GABEO at (404) 656-6372 or (404) 372-1894 or visit the GABEO website at www.ga-gabeo.org.

Amanda Smith
Lynching ReEnactment
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