“Truth and reconciliation are sequential,” says Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. In order to get to reconciliation, we must first engage in the requisite truth-telling.
This truth-telling began on February 29, 2020, when a crowd of 200 gathered in Coos Bay for a soil-collection ceremony near the spot where 28-year-old Alonzo Tucker was killed. Two jars of soil were collected. One jar was sent back to the Equal Justice Initiative to be displayed at their Legacy Museum and the other jar became part of a Coos History Museum exhibit. The soil was collected from three locations and each bit of soil told part of Alonzo Tucker's story.
The first bit was gathered from the mudflats underneath the local docks. After being accused of sexually assaulting a White woman, Alonzo Tucker was arrested, and a mob formed with the intention of lynching him. In the midst of being transported away from the mob, Alonzo Tucker escaped and hid in the mudflats underneath the local docks. The mob stationed guards across town and kept watch throughout the night. This soil also holds where Alonzo Tucker was eventually found the next morning with the crucial detail being that he was discovered by two young boys. Meaning that just like a Southern lynching, this Oregon lynching had become so communal that even children were involved in the hunt for Alonzo Tucker.
Alonzo Tucker would try to escape the mob, and despite being once shot in the leg, he managed to run into a shop and cry, “Lord, have mercy on a colored man.” However, there would be no mercy for him and so the soil gathered from the second location was where Alonzo Tucker would once again be shot, this time in the upper body. This left him incapacitated and allowed the mob to put a noose around his neck and throw him in the back of a cart with the intention of lynching him from the spot of the alleged assault. They wouldn’t make it that far as Alonzo Tucker would die from the gunshot wounds.
The third bit of soil was gathered from where the old Marshfield Bridge use to be, which was where the mob strung up Alonzo Tucker from a light pole in front of a crowd of 300 and left his body hanging there for several hours.
Despite this all occurring in broad daylight without a masked man in the crowd, no one would ever be held accountable for the lynching of Alonzo Tucker. Following this event, African Americans would flee the Coos Bay area over fears of future violence.
One of the most common causes of lynching was the accusation of sexual assault. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the myth of the Black male rapist permeated society. Academics promoted the field of scientific racism and developed theories to legitimate the claim that Black men were dangerous subhumans predisposed to rape. Minstrel shows, racist chromolithography, and early American films embedded the image of the Black male rapist into the American consciousness.
Despite the overwhelming history of the rape of Black women at the hands of White men, there was an immense societal fear at the mere thought of sexual contact between a Black man and a White woman. It was a widely held belief at the time that a White woman couldn't willingly consent to sex with a Black man. Any action that could remotely be interpreted as a Black man seeking sexual contact with a White woman was subject to this pervasive fear. Something as innocuous as a Black man accidentally bumping into a White woman could result in the accusation of sexual assault. When famed anti-lynching advocate Ida B. Wells asserted that many sexual assault allegations that resulted in lynching were really consensual relationships, a mob burned down her newspaper and threatened to lynch her.
In 1974, a Coos Bay World newspaper reporter interviewed three men who were boys at the time of the 1902 lynching and provided eyewitness accounts. All three men believed Alonzo Tucker was lynched over a consensual relationship with the woman who accused him of assault.
On June 19, 2021, a community gathered to pay witness to the lynching of Alonzo Tucker. There were 300 people in-person and 300 people online--double that who were at the 1902 lynching. They began the process of rewriting the ending to Alonzo Tucker's story.