Does anyone know a good recipe for crow?

Zann Nelson and I were the guests this week on Town Talk, Ted Schubel’s radio show on WFVA in Fredericksburg.

Last month I predicted in this blog that the Virginia General Assembly would reject a proposed lynching resolution. Today I’m trying to decide on the best way to cook crow.

Members of the state Senate passed the resolution on Wednesday, and those in the House passed it yesterday. Both votes were unanimous.

I was also wrong in describing the resolution as “moderate.” It is not. The resolution is written with the frankness of someone who is finally able to say how he or she really feels. It traces the history of racism in Virginia from slavery, through lynching, to disenfranchisement, forced segregation, and denied civil rights.  It concludes that this legacy “has yet to be uprooted in Virginia.”

Much of the credit for the document goes to Zann Nelson, a researcher, writer and Culpeper activist. Nelson explained this week that she was drawn to the topic while researching the lynching of Allie Thompson in Culpeper in 1918. She thought there must be some way of apologizing to Thompson’s descendants and to the descendants of Virginia’s other lynching victims. “It’s long overdue to put this topic on the table,” she said.

Nelson found allies in the General Assembly, including Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) and the state’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission. The result of this partnership was a document modeled after the Assembly’s 2007 resolution that apologized for the state’s role in slavery.

The lynching resolution “acknowledges with profound regret the existence and acceptance” of lynching in Virginia. It calls on the King Commission to compile a database of the state’s lynch victims, and it asks the Department of Historic Resources to identify sites where markers can be erected.

The first of these markers is scheduled to be placed in Charles City County this spring. It recalls the death of Isaac Brandon in 1892. Brandon was accused of the assault of a white woman. A mob of masked men abducted him from the county jail and hanged him from a tree in the courthouse yard.

There are many other cases like Brandon’s that await public notice. By one count, there’s at least 109 of them.

PS: Please join me on Wednesday, Feb. 27, at 9:30 a.m. I’ll be at Germanna Community College (Fredericksburg Area Campus, 10000 Germanna Point Drive) to talk about my book, The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia, and about lynching in Virginia.

Is Virginia ready to apologize for lynching?

Sen. Jennifer McClellan

I applaud the efforts of Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan and others to pass a lynching resolution in this year’s General Assembly, but I’m not optimistic about their chances.

McClellan, a Democrat, represents portions of the Richmond area in the Virginia Senate. She is also chair of the state’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission and the driving force behind HJR655, a resolution now before the General Assembly.

The measure says that the General Assembly “acknowledge with profound regret the existence and acceptance of lynching” in Virginia. It also calls for the King Commission to make a complete record of all the people killed during the lynch era, and for the commission and the Department of Historic Resources to identify sites for historic markers where lynchings occurred. Finally it asks that state educators, from kindergarten through college, be informed of the Assembly’s action, as a not-so-subtle encouragement to include lynching in their history curricula. The resolution has been referred to committee.

The resolution is moderate and much-needed. However, as a lifelong observer of Virginia politics, I despair that Assembly members will be willing to stir such a painful pot. I can see them objecting to the costs, and I can hear them saying that this is a first step on the slippery slope to reparations.

Virginia has much to answer for—from slavery, introduced 400 years ago this year in Jamestown, to lynching, segregation, disenfranchisement and denied civil rights. It’s time to acknowledge this past and to apologize.

Gianluca De Fazio, an assistant professor at James Madison University, lists 109 Virginia lynchings on his online database. Sixty-three Virginia localities had at least one lynching and 27 of these had more than one. This means that for more than 50 years, mob rule went almost unchecked throughout Virginia, and black residents paid for it with their lives.

Since publication of my book about a Fauquier County lynching, The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia, I have traveled throughout central and northern Virginia to talk about the book and about lynching. Invariably an audience member will approach me after a talk to say, “I had no idea.”

McClellan’s resolution lifts the silence that has shielded the practice of lynching for many years. I hope I am wrong about the resistance I suspect she will encounter.

Speaking of talks, I will be on the road again soon. I will be the guest of the Middle Potomac History Research Group on Tuesday, Feb. 19, at 4 p.m. The group meets at the Josephine School Community Museum and Clarke County African-American Cultural Center in Berryville.

On Wednesday, Feb. 27, at 9:30 a.m. I’ll be talking at the Fredericksburg campus of Germanna Community College as part of their Black History Month observance. Please join me.

Finally, I’m proud to say that Professor De Fazio at James Madison has published another of my essays on his website. This essay is about eyewitness accounts of lynching, how rare they are and how powerful. One example I cite is the lynching of Archer Cook in Farmville in 1888, which was described by eyewitness Richard Sanderson.


Have thumb drive, will travel

Germanna Community College this week sponsored a program on publishing your first book. Participants were (from left) Rick Pullen, Howard Owen, Jim Hall, David Sam, Cory MacLauchlin and Chris Brown.

I expected to promote The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia after publication, but I didn’t realize that promotion would take the form that it has. I thought I would go to signings, sit behind a table, and talk to those who wanted to buy the book. I’ve done that and enjoy it very much.

But I’m also a man with a thumb drive and PowerPoint slides who travels the region, talking about lynching, especially lynchings in Virginia. I talk about the lynching I know best, the 1932 Fauquier County incident that is the subject of my book. But I spend as much or more time on other cases, such as the 1893 death of William Shorter. Shorter was pulled from a train outside Winchester, Va., and hanged beside the track. He was accused of murder and was with a deputy sheriff on his way to trial, but the residents of Winchester couldn’t wait.

All of a sudden, I’ve become something of an expert on lynching. I’ve given talks about it in Richmond, Culpeper, Manassas, Stafford and Fredericksburg. This month I will talk to a history class and a journalism class at the University of Mary Washington. Next month I’m at the Central Rappahannock library in Fredericksburg, and after that the Afro-American Historical Association in Fauquier County and the Fall for the Book festival at George Mason University in Fairfax County.

I’m making good use of my master’s degree research, when I studied how Virginia newspapers covered lynching. I found accounts of maybe 50 of the 70 incidents that occurred in the state from 1880-1930, including the 1897 death of Joseph McCoy. A mob dragged McCoy from the jail in Alexandria and hanged him from a lamppost at the corner of Cameron and Lee streets. He had been accused of the assault of a child.

I talked to a videographer this week when I spoke at a program sponsored by Germanna Community College. I’m thinking about making a video of one of my talks and placing it on YouTube. Who knows? Maybe I’ve found a new career as a speaker.

A story of persistence is supposed to end this way

Rick Pullen
David Sam

David Sam asked an interesting question last week: Is it persistence or delusion that compels a person to write a book and work tirelessly to get it published?

I would answer persistence, and Sam would too. Persistence paid off for him.

Sam is president of Germanna Community College, in the Fredericksburg area, and a published poet. He and I and Rick Pullen, a Fredericksburg resident and the author of the political thriller Naked Ambition, were guests last week on Town Talk, Ted Schubel’s show on WFVA radio. We were there to talk about getting your first book published, which is the subject of a panel discussion that Germanna will host later this month.

Sam is the perfect person to moderate the panel. I was astounded to hear what he’s gone through to get published. He told the radio audience that he’s written poetry for 43 years and has submitted more than 600 poems or collections of poems for publication. Fewer than 100 were accepted. The former English professor maintains a spreadsheet to track his submissions and acceptances. “My success rate is 13.6 percent,” he said.

Sam said people ask him why he perseveres. “I would say I have no good answer,” he said. “For whatever reason, I need to write poetry.”

Last week Sam learned that a collection of 20 poems, Finite to Fail, was the grand prize winner in a national chapbook contest. It was his first contest prize, and it means that the poems will be published by GFT Press in Florida. It is an honor that he is obviously proud of and the reward for years of persistence.

PS:  The free Germanna program will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 28, at 7 p.m. at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in downtown Fredericksburg. In addition to Sam, Pullen and me, the panelists will be Cory MacLauchlin, Howard Owen and Chris Jones.

You can listen to our appearance on Town Talk here.


How I published my book, in three easy steps

firstbookjA University of Mary Washington student wrote me recently to say that he wouldn’t be able to attend the program that Germanna Community College is sponsoring next month on getting your first book published. Germanna invited me to be part of the program, and the student asked, “Could you lend me some of your advice on publishing?”

I had no idea how to answer a question like that, but I wanted to be helpful, so I told the student that if my experience qualifies as advice, I’d be happy to share it. So, here goes. This is how I got my book published, in three easy steps:

First, I wrote the book. Other writers may solicit a publisher on the strength of an idea and a completed first chapter. Not me. I had a 33,000-word nonfiction manuscript in hand when I began this journey.

Next, I sent cover letters and electronic copies of the work to three academic publications. I believed that’s where the manuscript belonged, but one after another, the three journals said no. In fact, the editor at the third one was dismissive of my scholarship and my writing. He hurt my feelings. I knew my research was solid, and I knew that my writing was 10 times better than the gibberish he published. But he was right. My work didn’t belong in his journal. It didn’t read like the other articles there, and it was three times as long. I realized then that my work was not a journal article but a book, a solid, general-interest history book. And that’s when I found History Press.

History Press, based in South Carolina, says it specializes in local and regional history, and that its books are soft-cover and shorter than most, with lots of pictures. That appealed to me. I went to the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in Fredericksburg and inspected several History Press books. They were handsome works, professionally made, and I could picture being published by them. I also studied the company’s catalog and found a niche where I might fit. I filled out their query form and attached a cover letter, saying that my book would work nicely under their “true crime” umbrella. They thought so too. I signed a contract, and about a year later, I had in hand The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia.

So to the UMW student, I say tell your story, then study the market for a publisher. Not just any publisher, but the best one for you. And, oh yes, the third and most important step: get up and try again after they knock you down, because they will.

Every author needs a Facebook page

Susan Larson
Susan Larson

First came the writing, then the production, and finally the marketing. To help me market The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia, I hired Christina Dill, who created this website, and Susan Larson, a Facebook expert. Susan is the publisher of Fredericksburg Today, an online news site, and teaches social media at Germanna Community College. With her guidance, I now have an author page on Facebook, in addition to my personal Facebook page. I hope to use the author page, along with this website and frequent posts to this blog, to build a community of people interested in the book.  And I thought all I had to do was tell a good story.

If you “like” my author page on Facebook, you will learn when I’ve posted new items to this blog. The page is at The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia. Susan’s website is You can “like” her Facebook page at Fredericksburg Today. Thanks, Christina and Susan.