His 30-Year Mission: Justice for a Lynching

Virginia's John Johnson has been collecting evidence and names in Raymond Byrd's death
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 1, 2019 11:31 AM CDT
His 30-Year Mission: Justice for a Lynching
   (Getty/Vladimir Kokorin)

What is thought to be the last lynching in Virginia occurred in August 1926 when a mob pulled Raymond Byrd from a jail in Wytheville, brutally assaulted him, and hanged him from a tree. Now the Washington Post has the story of 80-year-old John Johnson, a black resident of modern-day Wytheville who has made it his personal mission to learn everything he can about Byrd's death. Johnson even has a personal link—his father had been among the men trying to guard Byrd from the mob. Only one white man was put on trial for the killing, after a drunken confession, but he was acquitted. Johnson, though, isn't letting matters rest. Over the last 30 years, he has collected names of men believed to have been part of the mob, recorded accounts from Byrd's relatives and others, and even has the rope believed to have been used to bind Byrd's wrists.

“I wanted to know what happened, why it happened, who was involved, the whole detail about it,” Johnson explains to Stephanie McCrummen of the Post. Byrd had been accused of raping a white woman, though the accusation appears to have been made not by her but by her father, a local farmer, after she gave birth to Byrd's child. The story recounts the grisly details of the mob's actions, including how they dragged Byrd from a car on the way to the lynching, which took place on his accuser's farm. So will Johnson name names or reveal all that he's learned publicly? That remains unclear. “I’m the keeper of the secret,” he says. “I’ve got the names, and I don’t really right now know what to do with them before I die. And I’ve got to do something with them before I die.” Click to read the full story. (More Longform stories.)

Stories to sink your teeth into.
Get our roundup of longform stories every Saturday.
Sign up
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.