Victim Name: Shedrick Thompson
Method of Death: Hanged
Accusation: Attack on a white man and white woman
Mob Composition: Unknown
Summary: Shedrick Thompson was lynched in Fauquier county in the summer of 1932, accused of assaulting a white couple. The decomposed body of the 39 years old African American farmhand was found hanging from a tree near Linden, on September 15th, 1932, when a mob cut and burned his remains.
On the night of July 17th, 1932, Thompson entered into the bedroom of his employers, Henry and Mamie Baxley, near Hume, in Fauquier county. Thompson attacked the couple with a club and beat them “into insensibility” (Winchester Evening Star); Mrs. Baxley was also dragged to the foot of Buck Mountain, about 100 yards from her home, and assaulted. The motive of Thompson’s fury is unclear, but soon after the attack, he fled into the mountains. The local sheriff organized posses to trail Thompson, even establishing camps in the mountains. According to the Washington Post, “virtually every man in the neighborhood joined police in the manhunt”, although with no success. After several days, the search for Thompson was called off. On September 15th, 1932, a farmer found the decomposing body of Thompson hanging from a tree, on Rattlesnake Mountain; a mob soon gathered around Thompson’s corpse, cutting and burning the remains (Northern Virginia Daily). The coroner declared Thompson’s hanging a suicide (Washington Post).
Local and national newspapers soon advanced doubts about Thompson death. The Evening Star reported that a hole in the skull of the man was found, probably inflicted by a bullet, while the Martinsburg Journal wrote that “The authorities’ presumption that the man feared capture and took his own life is not generally believed in that section, and there is a tendency to think that unidentified parties captured the negro and proceeded with the execution”. The Chicago Defender claimed that “‘Suicide’ is now synonymous with ‘Lynching’ in Va.” Nevertheless, local authorities rejected as “false rumors” the possibility that Thompson was tortured and lynched (Harrisonburg Daily News Record). In December of 1932 the NAACP listed Thompson as one of the lynching victims for that year; Fauquier authorities reacted by vehemently denying that Thompson was lynched, reaffirming that Thompson instead killed himself (Danville Bee).
Thanks to recent research by Jim Hall, who interviewed several Fauquier county residents, as well as one of the descendants of the Baxleys, there is little doubt that Thompson was indeed lynched in the summer of 1932. For more details, you can read Hall’s essay here.
News Coverage: Chicago Defender; Danville Bee; Evening Star; Harrisonburg Daily News Record; Martinsburg Journal; Norfolk Journal and Guide; Northern Virginia Daily; Washington Post; Winchester Evening Star.