I’ve amassed a ton of material in writing this book. In fact, the records I’ve found and the interviews I’ve done are the parts of the project that I am most proud of. Still, I think about the missing pieces, the treasures yet to be discovered.
I dream of finding a diary written by one of the men who lynched Shedrick Thompson, or an eyewitness report in a local newspaper. I dream that maybe someone from the Thompson family is still alive with photos of Shedrick and stories to tell about him. I’d love to find a letter from former Gov. Harry F. Byrd to one of his friends, imploring them to do whatever it takes to make this embarrassing incident go away. I’m ever-optimistic that one day one of these treasures will turn up.
That’s why I was excited recently to learn that the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond has a collection of letters that once belonged to Roy Flannagan. Flannagan was a Richmond News Leader reporter who covered the Thompson case. He was also campaign manager for Gov. Byrd’s failed presidential campaign in 1932. (I know, it was a different time, when no one was bothered by having a reporter work for a politician.) Frances Pollard and the staff at the Historical Society were kind enough to examine Flannagan’s papers for me and determined that they contained no mention of the Thompson case. I was disappointed but not surprised. Many of these hunting trips produce no quarry. Or as they tell young women: “You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince.”