On this dayNov 08, 1889

Leesburg, Virginia: Young Black Man Lynched for Frightening White Girl

On November 8, 1889, 18-year-old Orion “Owen” Anderson was taken from jail in Leesburg, Virginia, and lynched by an angry mob. Anderson, a young black man, was alleged to have worn a sack on his head and frightened the daughter of a prominent white man in Loudon County on her walk to school. Though there were no witnesses to the "incident" and the girl could not identify her "attacker," Anderson was arrested after a sack was found near him. He was jailed under accusation of attempted assault, and later reports claimed he confessed.

During the era of racial terror, black suspects were often subjected to beatings, torture, and threats of lynching during police interrogations. While news reports often reported these confessions as justifications for the brutal terror lynchings that followed, the confession of a lynching victim was always more reliable evidence of fear than guilt.

After midnight on November 8th, a group of 40 white men rode into Leesburg on horseback. Almost all of them were wearing masks and rags on their faces and, after taking the night watchman prisoner, three of the men gained entry to the jail by pretending that they had a prisoner who needed to be admitted. Once inside, they took Owen Anderson from his cell, carried him to the freight depot of the Richmond & Danville Railroad, hanged him, and shot his body full of bullets. The members of the mob were seen riding through town on horseback afterward, but no one tried to apprehend them or claimed to recognize them. Owen Anderson was buried in the town’s pauper’s cemetery.

Leesburg’s newspaper, the Mirror, reported the lynching on November 14th, calling it “a terrible warning,” and stating, “The fate of the self-confessed author of the outrage should serve as a terrible admonition to the violators of the law for the protection of female virtue.” Owen Anderson is one of at least 4300 African American victims of racial terror lynching killed in the United States between 1877 and 1950.

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