On a hot July night in 1932 a black tenant farmer in Northern Virginia slipped into his landowner’s home “Edenhurst,” beat him unconscious with a piece of stove wood, and
dragged his wife away to a nearby mountain. There, he is believed to have raped, beaten,
and left her for dead. The attack precipitated a huge manhunt. The county sheriff had
only one assistant but deputized hundreds of men. Local Ku Klux Klansmen and others
poured out to search for the attacker. Newspapers up and down the East Coast covered
the story. Two months later a farmer found the black man’s body hanging from a tree. A
coroner and Grand Jury hastily pronounced his death a suicide. Parts of the body were
then publicly displayed beneath the Warrenton courthouse steps.
A central question is why Shedrick committed an act so violent. At least 70 lynchings had
occurred in Virginia since 1880, and “Birth of a Nation” in 1918 had galvanized the Ku
Klux Klan in the area. He would have known there was little chance to escape. The film probes for this deeper motivation. Surprising evidence makes it likely that the role of white sexual dominance in racial relations – common then in Fauquier County and across the South – poisoned Shedrick’s own marriage.