State Historical Marker “Leonard Woods Lynched” to be Dedicated in Wise County

Published October 13, 2021

Department of Historic Resources (www.dhr.virginia.gov) For Immediate Release October 13, 2021

Contact: Randy Jones, DHR Randy.jones@dhr.virginia.gov 540-578-3031

—Marker highlights the lynching in 1927 of Leonard Woods, an African American coal miner; the event resulted in nation’s first law defining lynching as a state crime

Marker text reproduced below

 This weekend a state historical marker issued by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources will be dedicated in Wise County that recalls the lynching in 1927 of Leonard Woods, an African American coal miner. That event led the Commonwealth of Virginia to define lynching as a state crime in early 1928. The public dedication ceremony is scheduled for this Saturday, October 16, beginning at 11 a.m., at the marker’s location at 12643 Orby Cantrell Highway, Pound, Va. (24279), just east of the Virginia–Kentucky border. Parking is available near the sign’s location. The sponsor of the marker is the Historical Society of the Pound and co-host of the ceremony is the Wise County–City of Norton Community Remembrance Coalition. Event speakers will include Margaret Sturgill of the Historical Society of the Pound; Rev. Steve Peake, Pastor of Corinth Baptist Church in Fleming, KY; and Terran Young of the Community Remembrance Coalition will provide keynote remarks. Following the ceremony, the Community Remembrance Coalition will host a reception at the headquarters of the Pound Historical Society, 8404 Main Street, in Pound. Leonard Woods was in jail in Whitesburg, KY, for allegedly killing a white man from Coeburn, VA, when “a white mob numbering in the hundreds broke into the jail” and brought Woods close to the spot where today’s marker stands. There, the mob “hanged, shot, and burned” Woods, the marker states. No one was arrested after the lynching, but journalists including Norfolk editor Louis Jaffé and Norton’s Bruce Crawford, among others, urged Virginia Gov. Harry F. Byrd and the General Assembly to pass legislation to define lynching as a state crime. In early 1928 the legislation was enacted. The “Leonard Woods Lynched” marker was approved for manufacture and installation in 2020 by the Virginia Board of Historic Resources, which is authorized to designate new state historical markers. The marker’s manufacturing costs were covered by its sponsor. Virginia’s historical highway marker program, which began in 1927 with the installation of the first historical markers along U.S. Route 1, is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Currently there are more than 2,600 official state markers, most maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation, and by local partners in jurisdictions outside of VDOT’s authority. [PLEASE NOTE: DHR markers are erected not to “honor” their subjects but rather to educate and inform the public about a person, place, or event of regional, state, or national importance. In this regard, markers are not memorials.] Text of marker: Leonard Woods Lynched Leonard Woods, a black coal miner from Jenkins, KY, was lynched near here on the night of 29-30 Nov. 1927. Officers had arrested Woods for allegedly killing Herschel Deaton, a white man from Coeburn, VA, and had taken him to the Whitesburg, KY, jail. On the day of Deaton’s funeral, a white mob numbering in the hundreds broke into the jail and brought Woods close to this spot, where they hanged, shot, and burned him. No one was ever arrested. In the aftermath, at the urging of Norfolk editor Louis Jaffé, Norton’s Bruce Crawford, and other journalists, VA Gov. Harry F. Byrd worked with the General Assembly early in 1928 to pass the nation’s first law defining lynching as a state crime.

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