Alexandria Remembers: Lynching Victim Benjamin Thomas to Be Honored August 8, Anniversary of 1899 Lynching

Community Invited to Join In Virtual Remembrance

Benjamin Thomas was lynched in Alexandria, Virginia on August 8, 1899 at Fairfax and King Street. This photo was taken during the 2019 remembrance. (Photo: Elijah W. Griffin, Sr./The Zebra Press)

ALEXANDRIA, VA – Last year, people gathered at the corner of King and Fairfax Streets to remember the horror of the 1899 lynching of Benjamin Thomas that took place on that spot August 8, 1899. This year that same reverance is requested, but the City is asking residents to pay respects virtually by visiting the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project website and the “In Memoriam” page to learn more about the history of the lynching, compiled by the project’s research committee.

SHOW YOUR COLORS IN SOLIDARITY

Alexandria residents and businesses are asked to display white, blue and green ribbons or flowers, or wear white ribbons, in a community show of solidarity that acknowledges the terrible impact of racial terror hate crimes on Black and Indigenious people, and other people of color.

The Community Remembrance page also includes remarks from Mayor Justin Wilson and Sheriff Dana Lawhorne; an 1899 poem, “Take Him Out!” by Reverend A. A. Lott, published in “The Colored American” newspaper; and other community reflections on this lynching. 

WHO WAS BENJAMIN THOMAS?

Thomas’ death was one of two documented racial terror lynchings in Alexandria, out of 11 that occurred in Northern Virginia, and among the 100 documented racial terror lynchings that occurred in the Commonwealth between 1882 and 1968.

According to a database of Virginia lynchings maintained by James Madison University,  Benjamin Thomas, a 20-year-old black man also known as Benjamin Thompson, was arrested in Alexandria for allegedly attempting to criminally assault an eight year-old white girl. Though his protection was sworn by the police chief, four officers and twenty citizens, an enraged mob of 2,000 stormed the jail and dragged Thomas to the city square, where the Old Town Farmers Market operates today. He was hung by a rope on the lamp post at Fairfax and King and shot multiple times as well.

See SLIDE SHOW below of 2019 Remembrance for Benjamin Thomas 

In addition to the Community Remembrance Project, Alexandria is working with the nonprofit Equal Justice Institute’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, where there are currently on display 800 steel pillar monuments, one for each city or county in the United States where a racial terror lynching took place. The names of the lynching victims are engraved on the pillars. A field of identical monuments is in a park adjacent to the memorial.

One of the main goals of the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project is to bring the pillar with the names of Alexandria’s two documented racial terror lynching victims — Joseph McCoy and Benjamin Thomas — from Alabama to Alexandria for placement in a prominent location.

Visit alexandriava.gov/BlackHistory for more information about the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project, future programming, the history of lynching in Alexandria, and frequently asked questions.