On September 18, 1902, Alonzo Tucker, an African American man, was hanged from a beam on the South Marshfield bridge by a mob of armed, white coal miners in Coos Bay (then called Marshfield), Oregon. Despite the fact that newspapers reported that “not a masked man was in the [mob] and everything was done in broad daylight,” no one was held accountable for Mr. Tucker's lynching.
According to reports, Mr. Tucker had been accused of assaulting a white woman and was taken into police custody and placed in the local jail soon after. On September 17th, an angry white mob, intent on lynching Mr. Tucker, headed to the jail to abduct him. However, Mr. Tucker managed to escape prior to their arrival, and in response, the mob set up an armed patrol across the city to find him. The mob was infuriated by his escape and considered retaliatory action against the police officers initially supervising him, but they ultimately did not follow through.
During this era of racial terror, allegations against black people were rarely subject to serious scrutiny and often sparked violent reprisal. At the time, white people’s preoccupation and fear of sexual contact between black men and white women was fueled by the pervasive presumption that black men were violent, sexually aggressive, and always in pursuit of white womanhood. As a result, accusations of “assault” extended to any action that could be interpreted as a black man seeking contact with a white woman, and were sometimes merely based on cases of accidental touching or even making eye-contact. Black people were regularly presumed guilty and deprived of investigation or trial. In this case, a lynch mob made sure that Alonzo Tucker did not survive long enough to defend himself in a court of law.
The following day, the mob discovered Mr. Tucker at a nearby store called Dean & Co.’s and shot him in the right leg with a rifle. The mob initially prepared to hang Mr. Tucker near the store, but eventually decided to take him to the scene of the alleged crime near the South Marshfield Bridge. Although Mr. Tucker died on the way to the bridge from the wounds inflicted during the initial attack, he was nevertheless hanged from a beam on the bridge as a public spectacle.
Lynching, a statement of racial terror and white supremacy, was largely reserved for black suspects. Of the hundreds of black people lynched under the accusation of assault and other alleged crimes, nearly every one was brutally killed without being legally convicted of any offense. Lynch mobs regularly displayed complete disregard for the legal system, even abducting black people from courts, jails, and out of police custody. Law enforcement officials often failed to intervene and sometimes participated in mob violence, leaving no guarantee of custodial protections for black people accused of crimes. Race, rather than the alleged offense, most often sealed lynching victims' fates, and like nearly all documented lynching victims, Mr. Tucker was killed by a white mob that never faced prosecution for the lynching.
Alonzo Tucker is one of more than 300 African American documented victims of racial terror lynching in non-Southern states, the only person thus far documented to have been killed in Oregon between 1877 and 1950.