Four African American sharecroppers were killed near Moore’s Ford, Georgia, on July 14, 1946, in what is now known as the “last mass lynching in America.” The murderers of George Dorsey, Mae Murray Dorsey, Roger Malcolm, and Dorothy Malcolm, however, were never apprehended. The event’s violence and public uproar mirrored growing African American resistance to Jim Crow in the years following WWII, as well as local and federal authorities’ failures to address racial inequity and brutality in the South.
The situation began in mid-July in Walton County, some sixty miles west of Atlanta, after a fight between Roger Malcolm and his wife Dorothy. Local authorities detained Malcolm on July 14 after he stabbed white overseer Barnette Hester, who had intervened in the family dispute. Dorothy Malcolm and Hester may have had a sexual relationship.
On July 25, eleven days after the incident, J. Loy Harrison drove Dorothy Malcolm and fellow sharecroppers George and Mae Murray Dorsey to the Monroe, Georgia, jail to bail free Roger Malcolm. On their way back, a largely white crowd halted Harrison and the two couples near the Moore’s Ford Bridge on the Apalachee River. Harrison and other witnesses argued about what happened next. Loy Harrison, like many others who congregated at Moore’s Ford Bridge, was said to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
The sharecroppers were eventually beaten by the mob before being tied to a tree and shot to death. Dorothy Malcolm was seven months pregnant when George Dorsey, a World War II veteran, returned from combat in the Pacific.
The attack’s public nature drew national media attention. In Georgia, lame-duck Governor Ellis Arnall, who had recently failed in a quest for a second term in the 1946 Democratic gubernatorial primary because of his limited support for African American voting rights, encouraged the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to help local police find the killers.
Leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) used public outrage to pressure the federal government to take action. President Harry Truman eventually offered a $12,500 reward for information and authorized the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate the issue. The Moore’s Ford lynching influenced Truman’s decision to establish the President’s Committee on Civil Rights and to integrate the military in 1948.
Despite these steps, the crime committed at Moore’s Ford was never prosecuted. Despite the fact that at least fifty-five people were claimed to have participated in the mob action, FBI investigators collected shell casings and bullets from the tree where the four sharecroppers were slain and discovered no witnesses ready to testify as to the identities of the offenders.
A grand jury was assembled in Walton County to hear evidence about the crime, but no indictments were issued. The NAACP used the case to promote an anti-lynching bill in Congress, frustrated by the lack of justice and other reports of violence against servicemen returning from World War II, but membership in NAACP chapters across the South dropped in the 1940s out of fear of retaliation from the Klan and the state’s white power structure.
The Moore’s Ford lynching in the late twentieth century received renewed prominence due to renewed interest in Georgia’s civil rights movement. Bobby Howard, a civil rights leader, worked with the NAACP in the 1960s to revive calls for justice in the case.
In 2004, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations and the FBI returned to the case, questioning numerous now-retired witnesses and conducting more forensic investigations. These investigations have mostly stalled since witnesses to the Moore’s Ford events have remained silent.
Despite the fact that the investigations have not resulted in convictions, ongoing local efforts keep the Moore’s Ford lynchings in the spotlight. The Moore’s Ford Memorial Committee was formed in 1997 by an interracial group of Walton County residents to build a historical marker at the bridge site. Since 2005, public lynching re-enactments have become an annual tradition in the region.