September 18, 1902
“How do you reconcile a lynching?” Remembrance. Repair. Redemption. In order for us to get to that last r word of redemption, we must have the courage it takes to undertake the first two. Our failure to remember and repair the legacy of lynching is what has allowed it to evolve. For three years, ORP worked with the community of Coos Bay, OR to memorialize Alonzo Tucker, Oregon’s most widely documented African American victim of lynching, who was lynched in Coos Bay on September 18, 1902.
This remembrance 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.
News of this lynching made headlines across Oregon and even across the country. Most newspapers were sympathetic to the lynch mob. One newspaper wrote that “the crowd which witnessed the last act of the tragedy is estimated at about 300. They were quiet and orderly, and it is safe to say that no such lawless proceedings were ever conducted with less unnecessary disturbance of the peace.” Another newspaper wrote that, “the conduct of the avengers was marked throughout by quiet orderliness but deadly determination. The sentiment of the community is in sympathy with the lynchers, and it is extremely improbable that any arrests will be made.” 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 white men who were boys at the time of the 1902 lynching and they 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 at the unveiling of his historical marker. The historical marker was more than just a retelling of history. It was also the making of history as over 600 people, double that who were at the 1902 lynching, gathered in-person and virtually to add this new chapter to Alonzo Tucker’s story. There are two dates of significance on the Alonzo Tucker historical marker, 1902 when the lynching occurred and 2021 when the historical marker was unveiled, and we can’t fully understand the story of Alonzo Tucker only focusing on the 1902 date as his story now continues on into 2020 and 2021 when that same community where his lynching occurred used his memory as inspiration for becoming a community more committed to the ideals of truth, justice, and reconciliation.
At the Alonzo Tucker historical marker unveiling ceremony, ORP publicly launched its campaign to end the death penalty in the name of Alonzo Tucker and historical repair. Coos Bay’s three-year investment in reconciling the lynching of Alonzo Tucker readied them to embrace this next phase of contemporary racial justice action. On May 28, 2021, ORP brought Alonzo Tucker’s story to TEDx Portland and invited the audience to join the campaign to end the death penalty in Oregon. This call to end the death penalty in the name of Alonzo Tucker and historical repair was once again met with resounding community support. There remains a growing movement of Oregonians committed to elongating Alonzo Tucker’s story toward an ending of redemptive justice.
The Alonzo Tucker historical marker unveiling was a part of Coos Bay’s first ever Juneteenth ceremony. The next year, June 2022, Coos Bay’s Juneteenth ceremony grew into a three-day event. The Coos History Museum unveiled another historical marker in Coos County to honor a community known as Beaver Hill, a mining community that was one of Oregon’s most diverse communities between 1894-1926. Coos Bay then invited African Americans from their community and the surrounding area to showcase their history, culture, and tradition as part of their renewed commitment to telling diverse stories of their local history.
None of our stories are over. Coos Bay’s story is not over, and neither is Alonzo Tucker’s. Right now, when we talk about Alonzo Tucker, we talk about the legacy of lynching. One day when we talk about lynching, we’ll be talking about the legacy of Alonzo Tucker. The rest of his story is yet to be written.