While blacks served America with great distinction during World War II, as had been the case during World War I, upon returning home from war, many soldiers, sailors and Marines found themselves increasingly more disgusted. They had fought, bled and seen comrades die to end Fascist tyranny only to return to Jim Crow business as usual in the south. Many of the early leaders of what would become known as the Civil Rights Movement had either served in the military or having been too young to fight but old enough to be aware of the hypocrisy, were impacted by this very notion.
Even more crucial to the battle for civil rights that was to come was the gruesome lynching at Moore’s Ford Bridge near Atlanta in 1946. That year, two young black couples were lynched only days after one of the black men, Roger Malcolm, had been released on bail after allegedly having stabbed a white man, Barnette Hester, following a fight at their job site. Malcolm and Hester were employed on a sharecropper farm owned by J. Loy Harrison, a white man.
According to Harrison, when word of the stabbing leaked, a “big (white) man who was dressed mighty proud in a double-breasted brown suit was giving the orders. He pointed to Roger Malcolm and said, ‘We want that nigger.’ Then he pointed to George Dorsey and said, ‘We want you, too, Charlie.’ I said, ‘His name ain’t Charlie, he’s George.’ Someone said ‘Keep your damned big mouth shut. This ain’t your party.'”
Malcolm, 24 at the time, was arrested and after posting bail, was picked up from jail by his friend George Dorsey, 26, a black war veteran who had only nine months earlier returned from duty in the Pacific. Both men were accompanied by their respective wives Mae Dorsey, 24, and Dorothy Malcolm, who was celebrating her 20th birthday on that day and sadly, was seven months pregnant.
As the couples were driving home on that evening, they were stopped at Moore’s Ford Bridge. The four were ordered out of their vehicle at gunpoint. Both couples were then tied to a large wooden tree and according to the coroner, shot over 60 times at close range. Even worse, the remains of the baby that Dorothy Malcolm was carrying was cut from her body.
An outraged President Truman ordered the FBI to investigate, but after having interviewed over 3,000 people and despite the presence of a $10,000 reward (a large amount of money in 1946), no one was ever indicted or tried for this lynching. Last year it was reported that the FBI is still investigating several elderly former Klansmen who reportedly were involved, but to date, no indictments have been issued.
Soon after this gruesome multiple lynching, Pres. Harry S. Truman created the President’s Commission on Civil Rights. But more crucially, the lynching created a greater sense of urgency among many Atlanta area blacks, including a young Martin Luther King Jr., who was completing his sophomore year at nearby Morehouse College when word of this ghastly spectacle made national headlines.