US authorities are investigating whether some of those responsible for one of the American south’s most notorious mass lynchings are still alive, in an attempt to finally bring prosecutions over the brutal unsolved killings.
FBI agents have questioned a man in Georgia about the Moore’s Ford Bridge lynching of 1946, the man told the Guardian. The man was among several in their 80s and 90s named in connection with the incident on a list given to the US Department of Justice by civil rights activists.
Speaking at his home in Monroe, 10 miles west of the lynching site, Charlie Peppers denied taking part in the killings of four African Americans who were tied up and shot 60 times by a white mob.
“Heck no,” said Peppers, 86, when asked if he was involved. “Back when all that happened, I didn’t even know where Moore’s Ford was.” Peppers, who was 18 at the time of the lynching, said: “The blacks are blaming people that didn’t even know what happened back then.”
A report by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) published last week found at least 700 more lynchings than had previously been recorded in southern states, renewing calls from campaigners for any suspects still at large to be brought to justice before it is too late.
The Moore’s Ford incident, widely described as America’s last mass lynching, stands out as a particularly brutal case even in Georgia, where more lynchings were recorded between 1877 and 1950 than in any other state, according to the EJI study. The report was the result of almost five years of investigations into lynchings in 12 southern states.
No one was ever prosecuted for the killings on 25 July 1946 of two black couples in their 20s: George and Mae Murray Dorsey, and Dorothy and Roger Malcom. According to unconfirmed claims from the time that are now asserted by campaigners, Dorothy Malcom was heavily pregnant and her unborn baby was cut from her body by the attackers.
An outraged President Harry Truman ordered a federal investigation and rewards totalling $12,500 – worth more than $150,000 today – were offered for information leading to a conviction. A grand jury was convened and heard evidence for three weeks. Yet no indictments were brought for the killings, which have long been linked to the Ku Klux Klan.