Police Terror in Union Springs

While the rest of the country was celebrating the end of WWII and the triumphant return of American troops fresh off of their defeat of the Japanese and Nazi regimes, the African-American population of Union Springs, Alabama faced a violent wave of racial oppression. Shortly following Victory over Japan Day, the town of Union Springs brought in two police officers from Covington County, Alabama. One of the these officers, Dewey Bradley, would murder at least two African-Americans, and severely injure a third between October and December of 1945. It is unclear what role the second officer had in this wave of violence. In response to this violence many African-American residents of Union Springs fled the town and did not return for years. It also is likely that this was not the only violence committed by Dewey Bradley, but rather that these were simply the crimes that gained the most attention.

Murder of Edgar Thomas

The first murder was of a 63 year old African-American shop owner, Edgar Thomas Sr. There is evidence that Edgar Thomas was targeted specifically because of his relative economic prosperity. Edgar Thomas was first arrested by Bradley on October 7, 1945. That morning, Thomas was in the store with a friend before it opened when Dewey Bradley and another officer broke into the store through the rear entrance without warning, proceeded to brutally beat Thomas, and arrested him on a charge of disorderly conduct. Thomas was released on bail that night and he spoke to the mayor and members of the city council about having those police officers relieved of their duty. As a well respected citizen of the community, his treatment was not taken well by some members of both the black and white community, and he had support of white residents of the town both in this request to the mayor and in his release on bail.

Nothing happened for five days. Bradley claimed that Thomas made threats on his life during this period, but he did not act on those threats. On October 13, Bradley and another police officer entered Thomas’ store again. One of the officers had two pistols and Bradley wielded a sawed off shot gun. The officer with pistols covered the entrance to make sure no one entered the store, while Bradley shot Thomas. According to the one eyewitness to the murder, as the police officers entered the store they told Thomas “[w]e have come to get you,” to which Thomas replied “[w]hat in the name of the Lord are you going to get me for.”

The Rev. J.L. Pinckney owned a café and barbershop two doors down from Thomas’ business. When he saw the two police officers enter Thomas’ shop, he moved to the business adjacent to Thomas’ and was the only eyewitness to the murder. A few hours after the murder, the Chief of Police came to Rev. Pinckney and told him that he had better leave immediately otherwise he would “get just what Mr. Thomas got.” He fled the town, leaving his weeping wife behind, and retreated first into the