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Marker at Pound Gap will commemorate the lynching of a prisoner taken from Letcher jail

A group from Wise County, Virginia, formed to heal racial divides, will soon dedicate a new historic marker at Pound Gap acknowledging an act of racial violence that had long been forgotten in Letcher County.

The marker will commemorate the death of Leonard Woods, a Black miner who lived in the Dunham area of Jenkins, who was broken out of the Letcher County Jail by a mob and lynched at the state line in November of 1927. Woods was accused of shooting a white mine foreman named Hershel Deaton during an altercation involving two other white miners and two Black women that occurred at Consolidation Coal’s No. 6 Camp, called Slick Rock Hollow, where the US 23 interchange with KY 805 is now.

The women were released from jail after Woods was hanged, shot and then burned. The charges against the women were dropped.

The brutal killing of Woods and the subsequent disagreement between the states of Kentucky and Virginia over which state should be responsible for investigating it led to the passage in Virginia of the nation’s first anti-lynching law. Letcher County Attorney Harry Moore investigated the lynching and said publicly that there were about six people he could identify and prosecute, but there is no record of any prosecutions in the case.

The dedication ceremony is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Saturday, October 16, at the state line on U.S. 23.

The marker was sought by a group that includes the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, the Episcopal Church, three historically black churches in Wise County, the Wise County School Board, and the Historical Society of Pound. It came about after the college received a grant to identify lynchings in Wise County in a project for the Equal Justice Initiative in Selma, Alabama, but Episcopal deacon the Rev. Preston Mitchell said last winter that the effort to memorialize the Woods lynching was not started by the college.

“It’s really grass roots. We don’t think it’s top down from the college,” Mitchell said. “We’re hoping to bring an awareness of where we are. I think what has happened in the last six months.”

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