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FBI Re-Examines 1946 Lynching Case

Civil-rights activist Bobby Howard has been investigating the case since 1968. He hopes the 60-year anniversary of the lynching will compel people with information about the crime to finally come forward.
Kathy Lohr, NPR
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Civil-rights activist Bobby Howard has been investigating the case since 1968. He hopes the 60-year anniversary of the lynching will compel people with information about the crime to finally come forward.
Moore's Ford Bridge was the site of the 1946 attack on four young black citizens. Click enlarge to see the underside of the bridge, a hot spot for graffiti, that includes the letters KKK.
Kathy Lohr, NPR /
/
Moore's Ford Bridge was the site of the 1946 attack on four young black citizens. Click enlarge to see the underside of the bridge, a hot spot for graffiti, that includes the letters KKK.

Just off a quiet highway about 50 miles east of Atlanta lies the Moore's Ford Bridge in rural Georgia. Sixty years ago, an angry white mob attacked two black couples near this bridge -- pulling them from a car, beating them and shooting them to death. The victims were George Dorsey, 28, his wife Mae Murray Dorsey, 23, his sister, Dorothy Dorsey Malcom, 20, and Roger Malcom, 24.

President Harry Truman called for a federal investigation into the crime, known as the Moore's Ford lynching, but no one was ever prosecuted. Now, the FBI is re-examining the case.

Bobby Howard, a civil-rights activist, has been working on the case since 1968. He felt compelled to investigate after meeting a local mortician who had handled the victims' bodies and after attending a civil-rights rally where he shook Martin Luther King Jr.'s hand.

Howard says one part of the mob had blocked the road, while others dragged Roger and George out of the car to beat them. Women usually were not lynched. But when the women recognized one of the cotton farmers, they too were taken down to the river.

"The leader of the Klan had them line up, counted 'one, two, three,' and everybody fired," Howard says.

"He went through that scenario three times. During that process, some of those people shot up in the trees," Howard says. "That's where the FBI dug out a lot of bullets."

Many have speculated about the incidents leading up to the crime. They think white townsfolk may have considered George Dorsey "uppity" since returning from service in WWII. George was also accused by townspeople of carousing with white women.

White landowner Loy Harrison, who employed George Dorsey and Roger Malcom, was driving the car when the four people were dragged out and killed. Harrison had paid $600 to bail Roger Malcom out of jail when, days earlier, he had stabbed a white farmer during a fight.

It is still unknown why Harrison bailed Roger Malcom out. Was he was responding to the pleas of Roger's loved ones, or, as a Klansman himself, was he part of a lynching plot?

Near the bridge, the FBI recovered bullets from shotguns and pistols of various calibers. The lynching took place in broad daylight, and the gunmen were not masked. Many knew who committed the crime, says Howard, but the tight-knit people of Walton County created a perfect cover-up.

According to Howard, after the lynching, white people formed a code of silence, and black people, expecting violent repercussions if they spoke up, were scared into silence. Even local law enforcement officers were tight-lipped.

Many in the area thought that President Truman sent the FBI to investigate the lynching because George Dorsey had served in WWII, and had only been home ten months before he was murdered in the Georgia woods.

"It's a little hard", says Penny Young, whose half-brother is the son of Roger Malcom, "because I have a brother living and breathing that was a man's son, so it's very real."

Young says the fact that no one was ever tried for the crime is still difficult for the family.

"I want to see the remaining ones [lynchers] that are living brought to justice … somebody needs to be held accountable for that," Young says.

Many of the suspects are dead, but civil-rights activists say that two or three are still alive. They say they're more optimistic now than ever about seeing a case go to trial, partly because of the prosecutions of other old civil-rights cases in the South.

The FBI is investigating the Moore's Ford lynching again, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is still working on the crime. GBI agents began combing through thousands of pages of files in Washington six years ago, but they say they can't do much more unless they get new leads.

Meanwhile, the suspects and witnesses continue to grow older. Activists in the community hope this 60th anniversary will encourage people to come forward, perhaps children or even grandchildren, who know more about the Moore's Ford lynching.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Whether covering the manhunt and eventual capture of Eric Robert Rudolph in the mountains of North Carolina, the remnants of the Oklahoma City federal building with its twisted metal frame and shattered glass, flood-ravaged Midwestern communities, or the terrorist bombings across the country, including the blast that exploded in Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta, correspondent Kathy Lohr has been at the heart of stories all across the nation.