Willie Edwards Jr. was assassinated by members of the Ku Klux Klan in Montgomery, Alabama on January 23, 1957. Edwards, 24, was taken from his delivery truck and forced to jump from a bridge to his death. It all began when Edwards received a call from his Winn-Dixie manager asking if he could cover a shift for another driver while he was eating supper with his family.
That evening, Edwards left his two girls and expectant wife at home, but he never returned. Years later, a former Klansman claimed that he and other members of the Ku Klux Klan forced Edwards out of his truck at gunpoint, terrified him, and carried him to a high bridge over the Alabama River. The KKK members threatened to shoot him if he didn’t leap. Edwards jumped out of fear.
Malinda Edwards, Edwards’ oldest daughter, was just three years old at the time of the tragedy. She told her sister, Mildred Betts, about the moment she found out what had happened to her father during an interview with StoryCorps.
“She sat in the room that night, watching him get dressed. She claims she scrutinized every article of clothing he donned. Malinda stated, “And he kissed her farewell.” “However, the next day he did not return.”
Sarah Jean Salter, Malinda’s mother, had no idea where Willie was for months.
“‘We found him washed up in the river,’ she added. She also had to figure out who the body belonged to. She had sewed the jeans he wore herself, and she recalled the thread. Malinda remarked, “She remembers the color of his underpants, shirt, and T-shirt.”
“And she warned me, ‘When you get married, don’t let your spouse leave the house without knowing what he’s wearing every day,’ because you never know if he’ll return.’
Mildred expressed her disbelief that the men were never held accountable for their acts to her father. All four guys involved in the case have now died.
“The only thing I did was modify his death certificate to murder,” Malinda explained. “Now everyone knows he was murdered by people who had no heart and no feelings.”
Mildred expressed her admiration for her sister’s perseverance.
She told her, “You did what you did for our family.” Despite the racial brutality perpetrated on her father, Malinda believes his legacy will live on.
“I want the klan to know one thing: You may have felt you snuffed out a life, that you took it from this Earth, but you didn’t,” she added. “You gave this man a life of his own. He is now teaching in universities that he is unable to attend. This man is immortalized in monuments. Willie Edwards Jr. was not destroyed by you. You took away our goals, dreams, and love, but you didn’t take away the man.”