Moore’s Ford Mass Lynching of 1946: Fire in a Canebrake by Laura Wexler

I’ve focused so much of my energy on researching the ancestry of the Askews that I’d totally neglected my research of the Moore’s Ford Mass Lynching of 1946.  After watching Murder In Black and White: Moore’s Ford, I believe it’s time for me give this event and its aftermath a bit more attention.


Moore’s Ford Bridge by the Associated Press (AP)

I’ve been reading Laura Wexler’s Fire in a Canebrake.  It’s so well written that in a lot of ways I feel like I’ve time traveled back to 1940’s Walton County, Georgia.  Having grandparents that lived and died there, I am already quite familiar with many of the landmarks, businesses, and places – even Moore’s Ford Bridge.

In Monroe, Walton County, Georgia, on April 21, 1946 in the parlor of a relative’s home, my grandparents, David Terrell and Merrell Bertha Tillman were wed.  Roughly three months and four days later, Roger and Dorothy Malcolm, and George and Mae Dorsey were brutally murdered by a slew of bullets fired from the guns and rifles of a mob of 20 white men.

In her book, Laura Wexler speaks of Riden Farmer, a white sharecropper who told the crowd of whites that flocked to the scene of the crime to collect souvenirs “that the shooting the night before had sounded like a fire in a canebrake.”

What exactly is a canebrake?  Fortunately, Laura Wexler gives a superb description.

Along the riverbanks near Moore’s Ford, wild mountain laurel and wild rhododendron bloomed, and the river cane grew up in thick groves called canebrakes.  When farmers lit fires to clear the land for planting, the heat caused the hollow cane stalks to explode.  On those days the river carried the sound of explosions — a sound like gunshots — for miles.

On the evening of July 25, 1946, I wonder if my newlywed grandparents heard this sound and knew it wasn’t the river cane that was exploding.