Murder of Willie Edwards
Willie Edwards Jr.|
November 13, 1932
Lowndes County, Alabama
January 23, 1957 24) (aged|
Tyler-Goodwyn Bridge/Alabama River, Montgomery County, Alabama
|Cause of death||Racially motivated murder by members of the KKK|
Willie Edwards, Jr. (November 13, 1932 – January 23, 1957) was a 24-year-old African American, husband and father, murdered by members of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan. He is buried at New Pleasant Valley Cemetery in Letohatchee, Alabama.
On the night of January 22, 1957, a small group of Klansmen gathered, armed with pistols and a rifle. They got into a car to look for Willie Edwards, an African American, who was recently hired as a driver for Winn-Dixie. Willie had come home from work and an hour later got a call from his boss asking to come back in because one of the other workers had called in sick. As they sat in the car they saw Edwards show up to work thinking that he was the person that had been sleeping with a white woman. Edwards left to go to work on the afternoon of January 23, never to return home. He was beaten by the Klansmen in a car as they drove him around the city. Then they stopped at a bridge along the Alabama River and pointed a gun at Edwards, before commanding him to jump off the bridge. He fell 125 feet to his death. Three months passed before his body was discovered washed up on the shores of the river. Officials stated that decomposition made it impossible to determine the cause of his death.
1976 Case Reopened
In 1976, then State Attorney General Bill Baxley re-opened the Edwards case. Four people were arrested and charged with Edward's murder: Sonny Kyle Livingston Jr. (38), Henry Alexander (46), James York (73), and Raymond Britt, Jr. Britt broke the long silence with his affidavit (in exchange for immunity), dated February 20, 1976. In the statement to Attorney General Bill Baxley, Britt described how on the night of January 23, 1957, he along with three other men beat and forced Edwards to jump off the Tyler-Goodwin Bridge into the Alabama River. Edwards fell 125 feet (38.1 m), from the bridge into the Alabama River below.
Alabama Judge Frank Embry dismissed the charges, even with Britt's sworn testimony because no cause of death was ever established. He concluded that "merely forcing a person to jump from a bridge does not naturally and probably lead to the death of such person."
Case Reopened 1997-99
In 1997, Edwards' daughter, Malinda, requested the District Attorney, Ellen Brooks, to re-investigate her father's death. The District Attorney agreed and began working with the new medical examiner, Dr. James Lauridson. It was found that Edwards' death was caused by a forced jump into the Alabama River in 1957. Therefore, Edwards' cause of death was changed from unknown to homicide.
In 1999, the District Attorney presented the new case before a Montgomery County Grand Jury, which subsequently declined to indict anybody of a crime.
- Lamerson, Donna. "Willie Edwards, Jr". Find a Grave. Retrieved 28 March 2011.
- Nossiter, Adam (September 4, 1993). "Murder, Memory And the Klan: A special report.; Widow Inherits a Confession To a 36-Year-Old Hate Crime". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 March 2011.
- Staff, Staff. "Willie Edwards Jr.". Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
- Justice Still Absent in Bridge Death, Major W. Cox, Montgomery Advertiser, March 2 1999
- Suspects Bound In 1957 Slaying, Montgomery Advertiser, February 27, 1976
- COLD CASE FILES: Episode 34, The History Channel, December 23 2004
- A Changing South Revisits Its Unsolved Racial Killings, Emily Yellin, New York Times, November 8 1999
- Murder, Memory And the Klan: A special report.; Widow Inherits a Confession To a 36-Year-Old Hate Crime, Adam Nossiter, New York Times, September 4 1993