Department of Historic Resources
For Immediate Release
December 15, 2021
Contact: Randy Jones, DHR
—The marker recalls the lynching of an African American man, Thomas Washington, in 1896 in Essex County for reportedly attempting to assault a young white woman —
—Marker text reproduced below—
RICHMOND – This weekend a state historical marker issued by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources will be dedicated in Essex County. The marker recalls the lynching of Thomas Washington, an African American man, for allegedly attempting to assault the young daughter of a prominent white citizen in March 1896.
The marker’s sponsor, Reginald Carter Jr., will lead the dedication in a public ceremony starting at 11 a.m., Saturday, December 18, at the sign’s location on 31438 Tidewater Trail, adjacent to the Essex County Fire Station in Center Cross. The event is hosted by the Essex County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Indivisible Essex, The Group That Shall Remain Nameless, and the Middle Peninsula African-American Genealogical and Historical Society.
Roadside parking will be available for all speakers, elected officials, and members of the press. The Angel Visit Baptist Church located at 29566 Tidewater Trail in Dunnsville will provide public parking for attendees. A free shuttle service to the marker site begins at 10:30 a.m. Masks are required on the shuttle.
Event speakers include the Rev. Cornelius Holmes, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Tappahannock; Chair of the Essex County Board of Supervisors Sidney N. Johnson; the Rev. Carole Harris-Harper, president of the NAACP Essex Branch; Jennifer L. McClellan of Virginia’s 9th Senate District; and Gloria Garmon, a first cousin twice removed of Washington. Bessida Cauthorne White, president of the Middle Peninsula African-American Genealogical and Historical Society, will oversee the pouring of libation, and Rodney Sidney II will perform a soil collection at the ceremony. Gov. Ralph Northam will also deliver remarks virtually.
Thomas Washington was lynched on March 23, 1896 and his body was discovered hanging from a tree about an eighth of a mile from where the marker is now erected, according to the sign’s text. “A coroner’s jury did not identify the killers,” the marker reads. Relatives of Washington later buried him near the tree where he was lynched. His was the only documented lynching in Essex County, according to the marker, and while the case attracted statewide publicity, no one was ever charged in the killing.
More than 4,000 people were lynched in the United States between the late 1870s to around 1950. In Virginia, more than 100 lynchings took place. Most lynching cases went unpunished by the courts. The Commonwealth passed the South’s first anti-lynching legislation in 1928, but no white person was ever convicted under the law.
The marker for Washington was approved for manufacture and installation earlier this year by the Virginia Board of Historic Resources. The marker’s manufacturing costs were covered by Reginald Carter, Jr.
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:
Thomas Washington Lynched
Thomas Washington, an African American man, was lynched on 23 March 1896 for allegedly attempting to assault the young daughter of a prominent white citizen. A boy found Washington’s body hanging from a tree about 1/8 mile southwest of here. A coroner’s jury did not identify the killers. The body, buried near the tree, was later given a proper burial by relatives. This was the only documented lynching in Essex County. The case attracted publicity across the state, but no one was ever brought to justice. More than 4,000 lynchings took place in the U.S. between 1877 and 1950; more than 100 people, primarily African American men, were lynched in Virginia.
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Originally posted: December 15, 2021
Updated: December 15, 2021