Timeline

1957

January 23rd, 1957

Klansmen Abduct and Lynch Black Man in Montgomery, Alabama

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’ pregnant twenty-three-year-old wife, Sarah Salter, was left to raise their two young daughters. Initially hopeful that her husband may have left for California, where he had always wanted to go, Mrs. Salters learned three months later that her husband was dead when two fisherman found his decomposed body in April 1957.

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. After the indictments were quashed twice for failure to specify a cause of death, the FBI informed Baxley that one of the men charged, Henry Alexander, was their primary Klan informant in the area and asked Baxley to give him “some consideration.” Alexander had been indicted for four church bombings, the bombings of two homes, and the assault of a black woman riding on a bus but he was never prosecuted. Baxley abandoned their case against the men and all charges were dropped.

Not until 1993, when Alexander confessed to his wife on his deathbed that he and three other Klansmen were responsible for “the truck driver’s” death, did the truth of Mr. Edwards’ last moments come to light. Alexander told his wife, “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.” A 1999 Montgomery County grand jury declined to indict any of the surviving suspects for the murder of Willie Edwards Jr.