7 – The Murder of Willie Edwards – 1957
Once again, the death of Willie Edwards was a case of the KKK getting away with murder. His ‘crime’ was apparently saying something offensive to a white woman, and for Klan members in Alabama, it was worthy of a death sentence. The known facts of the case are as follows: Four Klan members brought Edwards to Tyler Goodwin Bridge overlooking the Alabama River. One of the men pointed his gun at the 24-year old truck driver and told him to jump. Edwards complied and fell 125 feet to his death.
When Edwards’ murders returned to town, they joked that their victim had ‘jumped in for a swim.’ It took three months before the decomposed body was found 10 miles west of Montgomery. One of the men involved, Henry Alexander, was diagnosed with cancer and confessed his involvement in Edwards’ murder to his wife, Diane. Alexander said that he falsely identified Edwards as the man who had offended the white woman. He claimed that on the bridge, the Klansmen told their victim to run or jump. According to Alexander, they had no intention of shooting him and believed he would run. They were shocked when he elected to jump.
Alexander had also been involved in several bombings in Montgomery in early 1957, including one that destroyed the front of the house of civil rights leader, Reverend Ralph David Abernathy. About ten days later, a group of Klansmen was discussing a case of a black truck driver insulting a white woman. They knew he drove for the Winn-Dixie supermarket chain and operated on the Montgomery to Sylacauga route. One of the men involved, Raymond Britt, later told his lawyer what happened next.
He received a phone call and was told to meet at Henry Alexander’s house. They brought pistols and other guns, got into a car and started looking for the driver. Edwards was on duty that night, filling in for another driver who got sick. Britt and the others forced Edwards into their car and started interrogating him. He denied insulting a white woman but was driven to the bridge. They threatened him with castration and then gave him a choice to flee or jump.
When Edwards’ body was found, the level of decomposition made it impossible to determine the cause of death. The case was finally reopened in 1976 and Britt, Alexander, James York, and Sonny Kyle Livingston Jr. were charged with murder. Britt signed an affidavit in exchange for immunity and confessed to beating Edwards and forcing him to jump into the Alabama River. However, as the cause of death wasn’t determined, the men were not convicted. While Edwards’ cause of death was changed from ‘unknown’ to ‘homicide’ in 1997, no one has ever been charged with the crime.