On this dayJan 23, 1957

Klansmen Abduct and Murder Black Man in Montgomery, Alabama

Image | The Clarion-Ledger

Just before midnight on January 23, 1957, four Klansmen forced Willie Edwards Jr. to jump to his death from the Tyler Goodwin Bridge near Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Edwards, a black resident of Montgomery, was driving back from his first assignment as a deliveryman for a Winn-Dixie grocery store when he stopped for a soft drink. As he read his log book under the console light in his truck, four armed white men approached the vehicle, forced Mr. Edwards to exit the truck at gunpoint, and ordered him to get into their car.

Accusing Mr. Edwards of “offending a white woman,” the men proceeded to shove and slap him as they drove. One man pointed his gun at Mr. Edwards and threatened to castrate him. Sobbing and begging the men not to harm him, Mr. Edwards repeatedly denied having said anything to any white woman. Eventually the men reached the bridge and ordered Mr. Edwards out of the car. Ordered to “hit the water” or be shot, Mr. Edwards climbed the railing of the bridge and fell 125 feet to his death.

The next morning, Mr. Edwards’s truck was found in the store parking lot, the console light still on. Mr. Edwards’s wife Sarah, just 23 years old and pregnant, was left to raise their two young daughters. She initially hoped her husband had taken an unannounced trip to California, but those hopes were dashed in April 1957 when two fishermen discovered his decomposed body.

Nearly twenty years later, in 1976, Attorney General Bill Baxley prosecuted three known Klansmen for Mr. Edwards’s murder, after a fourth man confessed in exchange for immunity. Those indictments were later quashed and the FBI ultimately informed the AG that one of the men charged, Henry Alexander, was a federal informant. Mr. Alexander had been indicted for other acts of racial violence, including bombings of four churches and two homes, and the assault of a black woman riding on a bus. Mr. Alexander was never prosecuted for any of those offenses, and the charges for Mr. Edwards's murder were dropped.

In 1993, Mr. Alexander reportedly confessed to his wife on his deathbed that he and three other Klansmen had indeed murdered Mr. Edwards. Alexander's wife later reported he told her, “That man never hurt anybody. I was just running my mouth. I caused it.”

In 1997, the Alabama Department of Vital Statistics changed Mr. Edwards’s cause of death from “unknown” to “homicide,” but a 1999 Montgomery County grand jury declined to indict any of the surviving suspects for the murder of Willie Edwards Jr.

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