Are you sure it was the last lynching?

Paul Beers’ 1994 article in The Appalachian Journal.

The comment from an English teacher at Lord Fairfax Community College was one I had heard before. It went something like this: “This wasn’t the last lynching in Northern Virginia. There was another one that came later.”

John Owens, a librarian at Lord Fairfax, reported the comment to me. John said that a teacher at the college was checking out my book from the library when she mentioned another lynching in Fauquier that had occurred years after Shedrick Thompson’s death.

John encouraged the teacher to attend the talk that I will give at Lord Fairfax this Saturday, Feb. 24, at 2 p.m., or to contact me with the details of the later lynching.

I assume that the teacher was referring to the death of Nelson Pendleton in 1935. At least that is the case that I have heard most often mentioned as a possible later lynching. (Thompson was killed in 1932). I don’t know a lot about the Pendleton case. While I was working on The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia, I found two press clippings about his death. The first was a one-paragraph news story from The Fauquier Democrat. The other was an editorial from The Richmond Planet. The clippings said that Pendleton died on May 15, 1935, in Markham. He was black, 25, and accused of attempting to assault a white woman. His body was found in an orchard “by a group of enraged citizens, armed with rifles,” the Planet said. The coroner ruled his death a suicide.

The 1935 Fauquier Democrat story about Pendleton’s death.

The Planet, a popular black newspaper, was critical of the suicide verdict, the same verdict offered in Thompson’s death. The paper said the verdict was “overworked in Warrenton,” and it added, “There is a strong possibility that Judge Lynch is still holding court in this state.”

So was Pendleton lynched? Was he Virginia’s last lynching?

Maybe. It would be hard to answer definitively without doing a lot more research.

In a sense, this is where I was years ago when thinking about the Thompson case. I remember reading Paul Beers’ 1994 piece in The Appalachian Journal. Beers was writing about the 1926 death of Raymond Bird in Wythe County and called it “the last documented lynching in Virginia.” Beers may have known that statement would be controversial so he added a lengthy footnote. He dismissed the 1927 Leonard Woods lynching as a Kentucky incident, though few others agree with him. He also concluded that Thompson’s death was a suicide. He quoted Virginius Dabney, the longtime editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, who wrote that lynching in Virginia ended with passage of the state’s antilynching law in 1928. “Nearly all other students of Virginia lynchings agree with Dabney’s conclusion,” Beers said.

Well, not exactly. I did not agree and took up the challenge. I spent months reading documents and talking to people. I made the case, I believe, that Thompson was lynched. I also believe he was Virginia’s last lynching.

Someday, someone may do the research and make the case that Pendleton was lynched, and that he, not Thompson, was Virginia’s last lynching.

Please, someone, take up the challenge.

Please join me this Saturday or at another of the appearances listed below:

Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018, 2 p.m., book talk at Lord Fairfax Community College, 6480 College St., Warrenton, Va.

Sunday, Feb 25, 2018, 2 p.m., book talk at the Thomas Balch Library, 208 W. Market St., Leesburg, Va.

Thursday, March 1, 2018, 10 a.m., joint appearance with filmmaker Tom Davenport for book talk and screening of his film, The Other Side of Eden. Lifetime Learning Institute, Hylton Performing Arts Center, 10960 George Mason Circle,  Manassas, Va.

Sunday, March 18, 2018, 2 p.m., book talk at the Mosby Heritage Area Association, The Hill School, 130 South Madison St., Middleburg, Va.

I was the evening’s entertainment but also a proud papa

Jim Hall, left, with Andrew Hall at All Souls Church.

Last Tuesday was the kind of day that resides in memory long after it’s lived. I went north that day to talk about The Last Lynching at All Souls Church in Washington. What made the evening memorable, however, was that my son Andrew Hall introduced me. One of the sponsors for the program thought that Andrew, a member of the church, should be the one to welcome me. So I watched from the first row as he stood at the lectern and told the audience about me. He mentioned some of the items in my biography, avoided embarrassing stories, and then sat down. He was brief but informative, and the audience seemed as delighted as I was. That evening I proudly stood before them not just as their guest but as Andrew’s dad.

My travels continue this week with an appearance at George Mason University in Fairfax. Please join me there or at one of the other talks listed below.

Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, 11:50 a.m., book talk at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at George Mason University, 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Va.

Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, 2 p.m., joint appearance with filmmaker Tom Davenport for book talk and screening of his film, The Other Side of Eden. Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County, 4243 Loudoun Ave. The Plains, Va.

Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018, 2 p.m., book talk at Lord Fairfax Community College, 6480 College St., Warrenton, Va.

Sunday, Feb 25, 2018, 2 p.m., book talk at the Thomas Balch Library, 208 W. Market St., Leesburg, Va.

Thursday, March 1, 2018, 10 a.m., joint appearance with filmmaker Tom Davenport for book talk and screening of his film, The Other Side of Eden. Lifetime Learning Institute, Hylton Performing Arts Center, 10960 George Mason Circle,  Manassas, Va.

Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018, 6:30 p.m., Fredericksburg Rotary Club, Fredericksburg Country Club, 11031 Tidewater Trail, Fredericksburg.

Sunday, March 18, 2018, 2 p.m., book talk at the Mosby Heritage Area Association, The Hill School, 130 South Madison St., Middleburg, Va.

The new year begins with an appearance in Washington

All Souls Church Unitarian, Washington.

I was delighted to be invited to appear this month at the All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington. My son Andrew lives in Washington and has been a member of the church for several years. He thought that The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia and the talk I give about lynching in Virginia would fit with an anti-racism program the church is sponsoring this month. Church officials agreed, so I’ll be there on Tuesday, Jan. 23.

My appearance at All Souls is the first of the new year and one of six that I have scheduled. I’ll also be in Fairfax, Warrenton, Leesburg, Fauquier, Middleburg and Manassas (See below). Two of the dates are joint appearances with filmmaker Tom Davenport. Tom will show his documentary The Other Side of Eden about the Thompson case, and I’ll talk about the book. Please join us.

Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018, 7 p.m., book talk at the All Souls Unitarian Church, 1500 Harvard St. NW, Washington.

Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, 11:50 a.m., book talk at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at George Mason University, 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Va.

Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, 2 p.m., joint appearance with filmmaker Tom Davenport for book talk and screening of his film, The Other Side of Eden. Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County, 4243 Loudoun Ave. The Plains, Va.

Lord Fairfax Community College, Warrenton.

Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018, 2 p.m., book talk at Lord Fairfax Community College, 6480 College St., Warrenton, Va.

Sunday, Feb 25, 2018, 2 p.m., book talk at the Thomas Balch Library, 208 W. Market St., Leesburg, Va.

Thursday, March 1, 2018, 10 a.m., joint appearance with filmmaker Tom Davenport for book talk and screening of his film, The Other Side of Eden. Lifetime Learning Institute, Hylton Performing Arts Center, 10960 George Mason Circle,  Manassas, Va.

Sunday, March 18, 2018, 2 p.m., book talk at the Mosby Heritage Area Association, The Hill School, 130 South Madison St., Middleburg, Va.

 

Family learns of grandad’s role in Thompson story

Noah Kenney. (Family photo from Pam Androsky)

Pam Androsky remembers the day she was riding with her father on Fiery Run Road in northern Fauquier County. When they passed what was then the Borden Farm and is today the Marriott Ranch, he pointed to the mountain and said, “That’s where they found a colored man hanging from an apple tree.”

George Kenney was correct. Shedrick Thompson was found hanging from an apple tree on Rattlesnake Mountain. But Kenney omitted a key detail when recounting the story for his daughter. He did not tell her that his own father, Noah Kenney, was the one who discovered Thompson’s body.

Androsky, a resident of  Maryland, learned this detail only last month, while reading The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia. Her relatives look to her as the family historian, yet she was unaware that her grandfather played an important part in the Thompson story in September 1932.

Noah Kenney was 57 then and a tenant farmer at the Borden Farm, where he lived with his wife, Ethel, and their 11 children.  He told authorities that his cattle had been getting out so he decided to inspect a fence line in the thicket behind his house. There he found the body of a black man hanging from an apple tree. The body was decomposed, but Kenney knew that it was Thompson.

Thompson had been the subject of an intense search throughout northern Fauquier that summer. The fugitive was wanted for the assault of Henry and Mamie Baxley, his employers. After Kenney’s discovery, authorities ruled Thompson’s death a suicide. But others said no, that it was a lynching.

Kenney immediately wrote to the county board of supervisors to claim the $250 reward. “I am entitled to the reward. Please let me hear from you at once,” he wrote. The county had published three different wanted posters, including two that used the phrase “dead or alive.” Kenney seized on this wording, but the county refused to pay. He even hired a Front Royal attorney to press his claim. Again the board refused.

After I talked with Androsky last week, she forwarded a family photo of Noah Kenney. In the picture, he is tall and thin, with an actor’s chin and his hat pulled low. Androsky also recalls that he had dark hair and blue eyes. Some family members confuse his picture with that of George, his oldest child. Noah died in 1948, two days after celebrating his 73rd birthday.

I learned about Androsky after reading her sister’s review of The Last Lynching on the Goodreads website. Brenda Stensney wrote that every time Noah Kenney picked apples for his wife, he would tease her by claiming that they came from the hanging tree. “Needless to say, that did not amuse her,” she wrote.

These are a few of my favorite things

Here are three things that this writer is happy about:

  1. The story about my book by Pam Kamphuis, editor of the Piedmont Virginian magazine.

Pam asked me to write about Fauquier County’s reaction to publication of The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia. I did, and last week she posted that piece on the magazine’s website. She also included her own thoughts, crediting the book and Tom Davenport’s film on the subject, The Other Side of Eden, with promoting discussion of Shedrick Thompson’s death, even at the risk of opening old wounds.

“The principle of treating history honestly, openly, and engaging in dialogues, though uncomfortable, will help us move forward as a nation,” she wrote.

2. My appearance in Fauquier County next week.

I’ll be taking part in the 3rd annual Great Writers Right Here program, sponsored by the Fauquier County Public Library. The event will be held on Friday, Oct. 13, from 6-8 p.m. in Warrenton. I’ll be one of 40 writers attending the fair. The group includes writers of fiction and nonfiction, for adults and children. Natalie Wheeler, one of the organizers, said the library hopes that the event will encourage writers to connect with their readers and with one another.

“We also want to show off our local talent,” she said.

I’ll be there to sign and sell books. Please stop by and say hello. You can learn more about the fair here.

3. The Last Lynching goes into a second printing.

Perhaps I’m burying my lead here, but I’m delighted that History Press has issued a second printing of my book. Adam Kidd, one of my contacts at the South Carolina company, said recently that the first printing of 900 copies sold out, and that the company did a new printing in mid-September, almost exactly one year after publication. Thank you to everyone who has supported me during this adventure. It’s been a wonderful ride.

PS: Here’s my revised schedule of appearances for this fall and winter:

  1. Thursday, Oct. 12, 7 p.m., a talk at Fall for the Book, Kings Park Library, 9000 Burke Lake Rd., Burke, Va.
  2. Friday, Oct. 13, 6-8 p.m., a signing at Great Writers Right Here, Fauquier County Public Library, Family Life Center, First Baptist Church, 39 Alexandria Pike, Warrenton.
  3. Saturday, Nov. 11, 1:30 p.m., a panel discussion at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library, Porter Branch, 2001 Parkway Blvd., Stafford, Va.
  4. Friday, Nov. 17, 3 p.m., a talk at the Fredericksburg Literary Club, Faulkner Hall, 905 Princess Anne St., Fredericksburg.
  5. Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, 11:50 a.m., a talk at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at George Mason University, 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Va.
  6. Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, 2 p.m., a screening at the Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County, 4243 Loudoun Ave., The Plains.  Tom Davenport will present The Other Side of Eden, his documentary about the Thompson case. I will be there too.
  7. Sunday, Feb 11, 2018, a talk at the Mosby Heritage Area Association, Marshall, Va. (Time and place to be determined)
  8. Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, 10:30 a.m., a screening at the Lifetime Learning Institute-Manassas, Hylton Performing Arts Center, 10960 George Mason Cir., Manassas. Tom Davenport will present The Other Side of Eden, a documentary about the Thompson case. I will be there too.
  9. Sunday, Feb 25, 2018, 2 p.m., a talk at the Thomas Balch Library, 208 W. Market St., Leesburg, Va.

 

 

What is the nature of your complaint, sir?

A drone picture of Edenhurst, the home where Shedrick Thompson attacked Henry and Mamie Baxley in 1932. (From “The Other Side of Eden” documentary.)

When Pam Kamphuis read my recent blog post about the Philip Carter Winery, she asked if I would step back and reflect on the resistance I’ve faced since publication of The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia. Kamphuis, the editor of The Piedmont Virginian in Warrenton, said she wanted to use the piece on the magazine’s blog. Here’s what I wrote:

When I worked as a newspaper reporter, and a reader complained about one of my stories, I listened carefully to what the reader said. Was the story wrong or incomplete? Was it poorly written? Or was the reader unhappy, not because of what the story said, but simply because I wrote it? To these readers, no news was good news.

I was reminded of this in recent months as the author of The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia. The book describes the horrific lynching of Shedrick Thompson in Fauquier County in 1932. The reaction from some Fauquier residents has been similar to what I heard from unhappy newspaper readers. The complaints are not that I got my facts wrong, or that I’m a lousy writer. Instead, they are upset that I told the story at all. It’s as if I was dumping dead skunks in downtown Warrenton. Go away, they’ve said, go away.

The first hint of a problem came soon after publication when a local reporter asked one person mentioned in the book what she thought of it. “I don’t want to look at the cover,” she said. “I don’t want to read it. I don’t want to read anything about it.”

Retailers in Warrenton also were nervous and told History Press, the publisher, that the topic was too sensitive for their shelves. In the early months, I had invitations to talk to groups in Richmond, Fredericksburg, Manassas, Culpeper, Stafford and Spotsylvania, but not Fauquier. Later the Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier invited me to talk to its members. That appearance this spring is still the only time I’ve spoken in Fauquier.

I was scheduled to talk at a Fauquier winery this month, but a winery representative asked me to postpone the event to a time “when feelings are not so heated and the topics of conversation in your book might be better received.” But time itself is neutral and changes nothing, as Martin Luther King once said. So I spared the winery the pain of cancellation and did it myself. “I wish you the best,” I told them.

My friend, Tom Davenport, and I have worked together for months on this project. He has created a documentary film about the Thompson lynching and about the racial climate in Fauquier at the time. He too has experienced similar resistance. The leaders at his church, after much discussion, decided that the film was too controversial for a screening there. And after Tom did screen the film in May to a packed house in Warrenton, he received a threatening letter from a lawyer demanding that he remove one section. Because of the letter, Tom canceled a second showing in Upperville. But he also got his own attorney and successfully defended his right to show the entire film.

So when reading my book, if you find that my facts are wrong, please let me know. If you think the prose is pedestrian, I’d love to hear it. Otherwise, I’m sorry, but I’ll continue to write and talk about this case. It’s a worthy topic that teaches, among other things, the dangers of ignorance. Pretty timely, I would say.

PS: Here’s my newly revised schedule of appearances for the fall/winter. Please join me if you’re in the area.

  1. Wednesday, Oct. 4, 10:30 a.m., Lifelong Learning Institute-Manassas, Hylton Performing Arts Center, 10960 George Mason Circle, Manassas, Va.
  2. Thursday, Oct. 12, 7 p.m., Fall for the Book, Kings Park Library, 9000 Burke Lake Rd., Burke, Va.
  3. Saturday, Nov. 11, 1:30 p.m., Central Rappahannock Regional Library, England Run Branch, 806 Lyons Blvd., Fredericksburg, Va.
  4. Friday, Nov. 17, 3 p.m., Fredericksburg Literary Club, (Place to be determined.)
  5. Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, 11:50 a.m., Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at George Mason University,4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Va.
  6. Sunday, Feb 11, 2018, Mosby Heritage Area Association, Marshall, Va. (Time and place to be determined)
  7. Sunday, Feb 25, 2018, 2 p.m., Thomas Balch Library, 208 W. Market St., Leesburg, Va.

 

Surprised and disappointed, but I shouldn’t have been

Shedrick Thompson was 9 years old when his brother John (above) was born. John R. Thompson lived much of his life in New York and died there in 1975 at the age of 72. (Thompson family photo)

A representative of the Philip Carter Winery in Fauquier County wrote to me over the weekend to ask that my appearance there be rescheduled from September.  She wrote, “In light of recent events in the media, etc, we feel that it would be advantageous to both yourself and the winery to reschedule for a later date when feelings are not so heated and the topics of conversation in your book might be better received.”

I’m not sure what she meant by “when feelings are not so heated,” or when the topic of my book “might be better received.” But I’ve heard words like these before. To many in Fauquier, my book, The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia, calls forth unwelcome ghosts. As one online commenter said, “What good is it to dredge up the past now when there are so many unanswered questions that were taken to the grave? Let the dead rest in peace!”

My friend Tom Davenport has experienced similar opposition. Tom’s documentary about the Thompson lynching, The Other Side of Eden, opened in Warrenton in May to a standing-room-only crowd. Yet soon after the premiere, he had to hire an attorney to defend his First Amendment right to show the film. (You can see a 1-minute trailer for the film here.) The Washington Post summarized our experiences this spring when it reported, “getting the book sold or publicly discussed in Fauquier has been a seven-month struggle.”

So my reply to the folks at the winery was practiced but still discouraging to write. I said that Thompson’s lynching and the subsequent cover-up happened 85 years ago. To wait a couple more months to talk about it at the winery wasn’t going to make it any less disturbing. Nor will a change in the current political climate make Thompson’s murder any easier to talk about. To me, today’s climate of intolerance is reason to discuss the Thompson case, not avoid it, so we may explore the lessons that history offers.

I suspected that the folks at the winery wanted to cancel my reading but chose the less painful option of trying to reschedule it. I spared them the discomfort and canceled it myself. “My book is not a good fit for your winery,” I said, and wished them well.

Given the cancellation, here’s my revised schedule of appearances for the fall/winter: Please join me.

  1. Wednesday, Oct. 4, 10:30 a.m., Lifelong Learning Institute-Manassas, Hylton Performing Arts Center, 10960 George Mason Circle, Manassas, Va.
  2. Thursday, Oct. 12, 7 p.m., Fall for the Book, Kings Park Library, 9000 Burke Lake Rd., Burke, Va.
  3. Saturday, Nov. 11, 1:30 p.m., Central Rappahannock Regional Library, England Run Branch, 806 Lyons Blvd., Fredericksburg, Va.
  4. Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, 11:50 a.m., Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at George Mason University, 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Va.
  5. Sunday, Feb 11, 2018, Mosby Heritage Area Association, Marshall, Va. (Time and place to be determined)
  6. Sunday, Feb 25, 2018, 2 p.m., Thomas Balch Library, 208 W. Market St., Leesburg, Va.

 

 

 

 

For me, fall will be for the book

The Philip Carter Winery , Hume, Va.

I’m glad that my first book event this fall will be in Fauquier County, where The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia is set. The summer has been quiet, but I have scheduled seven appearances beginning in September.

The first occurs just after Labor Day at the Philip Carter Winery in Fauquier. The winery is off Leeds Manor Road in Hume near many of the locations in the book. As Philip Carter Strother, the owner of the winery, said when he proposed the event: “It would be a pleasure for (you) to read passages from the book with Rattlesnake Mountain in the background.”

I was also delighted to be invited to the 19th annual Fall for the Book festival in Northern Virginia. The four-day event, Oct. 11-14, takes place at George Mason University and other locations in Fairfax County. I am one of 150 authors taking part.

When the organizers of Fall for the Book contacted History Press, my publisher, about me taking part, they suggested that I read from my book. I asked if I could do what I usually do when I appear before audiences. Could I talk about lynching in Virginia, focusing on the Fauquier incident that is the subject of my book? They replied that my idea of “doing a presentation is great and will fascinate audiences.”

I’ve also been invited to talk to two of the Lifelong Learning Institutes for seniors. One is in Manassas, and the other is in Fairfax. And I’ll be speaking to groups in Marshall, Stafford County and Leesburg. The schedule as of today is below. Please join me.

  1. Saturday, Sept. 9, 7 p.m., Philip Carter Winery of Virginia, 4366 Stillhouse Road, Hume, Va.
  2. Wednesday, Oct. 4, 10:30 a.m., Lifelong Learning Institute-Manassas, Hylton Performing Arts Center, 10960 George Mason Circle, Manassas, Va.
  3. Thursday, Oct. 12, 7 p.m., Fall for the Book, Kings Park Library, 9000 Burke Lake Rd., Burke, Va.
  4. Saturday, Nov. 11, 1:30 p.m., Central Rappahannock Regional Library, England Run Branch, 806 Lyons Blvd., Fredericksburg, Va.
  5. Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, 11:50 a.m., Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at George Mason University, 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Va.
  6. Sunday, Feb 11, 2018, Mosby Heritage Area Association, Marshall, Va. (Time and place to be determined)
  7. Sunday, Feb 25, 2018, 2 p.m., Thomas Balch Library, 208 W. Market St., Leesburg, Va.

Two reviewers take the measure of my work

The Fauquier County Courthouse in Warrenton.

Two reviews of this book appeared recently, and both authors made similar observations: that The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia is instructive for its recounting of a long-ago lynching, but also for how it describes the lingering effects of that incident. As Mark Tooley wrote, the book is a “window into a time that seems like a different universe but is closer than we care to realize.”

Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, an advocacy group based in Washington, and the author of three books. He wrote about The Last Lynching for his blog on the institute’s website. Tooley describes how he had lunch in Warrenton, then visited the Old Jail Museum, where he bought the book.

Dan Enos is a volunteer in the Virginiana Room at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in Fredericksburg. His review appeared on the library’s website just prior to my appearance there in April.

I was delighted that both writers liked the book, but I was also impressed with how much time they spent digesting the story and how accurately they described it.

And both also noted the same thing that has motivated me: that Shedrick Thompson was murdered in Fauquier County almost 85 years ago, but that his death is still falsely cast, and for that reason, doubly disturbing.

Fredericksburg, where I live, was the scene of several important Civil War battles, and at The Free Lance-Star newspaper, where I worked, we joked that this may be the only town in America where the Civil War is still breaking news. And so with Thompson’s death: it is still breaking news.

As Enos put it, “The narrative is a portrait of both a dark chapter in local history and of subsequent generations’ struggles to come to terms with the legacy of racism and the evil acts it incited.”

Thank you to the residents of Fauquier County

Jim Hall, Bridget Settles, Mamie Wilkins’ granddaughter, and Tom Davenport, from left, at the premiere of Davenport’s documentary about the Shedrick Thompson case. The film was shown May 13 in Warrenton. (Photo by Pam Kamphuis, Piedmont Virginian)

When I recall the events of last Saturday in Fauquier County, I see myself on stage facing a nearly full auditorium. I hear Rufus Mincey’s startling revelation. And I see a line of people waiting to buy my book. Thank you to the people of Fauquier for making my first author visit there a wonderful experience.

The day began with a talk at the Afro-American Historical Association at The Plains. The audience was courteous and attentive but feistier than any I’ve faced, and I mean that as a compliment. They knew something of the story I told in The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia–the names, places and general outline–but they wanted to know more. They had so many questions, so early in the presentation, that I jokingly asked if they wanted to see the rest of the slides, or if they would prefer to just talk. They wanted to see the slides.

That night I stood in the back of the auditorium at Highland School in Warrenton for the premiere of Tom Davenport’s documentary about the Thompson case “The Other Side of Eden.”  I was standing because I gave up my seat twice to elderly visitors who couldn’t find empty seats. There may have been vacant seats up front, but the auditorium was almost full.

The panel discussion following Davenport’s film included, from left, Shawn Nicholls, Bridget Settles, Rufus Mincey, Jim Hall, Linda Tate and Rev. Lindsay Green. (Photo by Pam Kamphuis, Piedmont Virginian)

After the film, I took part in a panel discussion that also included Mincey, a black resident of South Carolina. Mincey stunned me, if not the entire audience, with the news that just days earlier he had received the results of a DNA test that said he was a descendant of the Hirst family in Pennsylvania. Henry Baxley Sr.’s mother was a Hirst from Pennsylvania, so the test confirmed that Baxley, a white man, fathered a child by his black cook. That child,  Mamie Wilkins, grew up, married and had her own children, one of whom was Mincey. In other words,  Mincey is Henry’s grandson.

The revelation gave weight to the theory that Shedrick Thompson attacked the Baxleys years later because of a suspected relationship between Henry Baxley Sr. and Ruth Thompson, Shedrick’s wife and also a cook for the Baxleys.

The next day I told Tom and Shawn Nichoils, his assistant, that I had begrudged them the time they spent on the white-father, black-mother story. I saw it as a diversion from the real story, the lynching of Shedrick Thompson. I also remember all the silent eye-rolls I did when Tom talked of “reconciliation,” how he wanted his film to explore the complicated relationships between white and black residents of Fauquier, in hopes of moving the community toward a better understanding of itself.

I was so wrong. The film and panel discussion did exactly as Tom and Shawn had hoped. The story line about white men of power fathering children by their black help was not a diversion from the real story. It was integral to the story about Thompson’s murder. The audience listened carefully and appeared moved. I was proud to be a part of it.

PS: Please join me this Saturday, May 20, beginning at 9 a.m., at the Old Town Warrenton Spring Festival in Warrenton. I have a tent and a space on Main Street, where I’ll be signing and selling books.